A Monday report from Variety detailed the lengths to which some Hollywood elite are going in order to be the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
At the time of this reporting, California is in Phase 1B Tier 1 in its vaccine administration program, which includes shots for individuals 65 years and older, those at risk in education, child care, emergency services, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, industrial, commercial, and residential facilities and services sectors, as well the incarcerated and the homeless.
What are the details?
"As coronavirus vaccines trickle out across the country and new infections and deaths rise at alarming rates in cities like Los Angeles, some power players in entertainment and media are leveraging their clout and connections to be amongst the first to get inoculated," Variety said.
As such, executives and other high-caliber entertainment players are reportedly "cycling through private physicians and concierge services to receive one of the two established COVID-19 vaccines on the market." Others, the outlet said, "have been tapping their vast resources in a mad dash to get vaccinated as the government, especially in Hollywood's native California, churns through a sluggish rollout."
Variety noted that while such practices don't technically violate any laws, they certainly raise questions of ethics.
"It's also clear that power and wealth, which allow many in the Hollywood community to afford on-demand doctors and access private planes to engage in vaccine tourism, have enabled them to get shots more safely and efficiently than average citizens," the outlet added. "It illustrates the gaping chasm that exists between the haves and have nots in this country when it comes to healthcare."
'We've been offered bribes'
Dr. Robert Huizenga, a Beverly Hills-based physician, told Variety that he has personally been offered more than $10,000 by certain individuals in the area, reported to include members of the entertainment industry, in order to get vaccinated ahead of the state's timeline, which prioritizes the elderly, infirm, and first responders.
"We've been offered bribes. We see people taking planes to every location. We've seen people try to transiently get into the healthcare profession or on staff at nursing homes, so they qualify for an early vaccine," he told the outlet.
He added that the affluent Hollywood players see themselves as being in a "fight for their lives."
"You can't really blame them for pulling out all the stops," he added. "The state and the government have set up a system that is really horrendous."
'Allocating "extra" doses at the practice's discretion'
Variety also reported that Robert Goldstein, who is acting chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, is reportedly working with Newport Beach-based surgeon Dr. Robert Bray in order to help expedite the shots for the affluent.
"While a representative for Goldstein had no comment," Variety said, "Dr. Bray said that his practice was not operating as a private concierge and was allotted 200 vaccinations from the state. His practice observed California's tier system, he said, offering vaccines to healthcare workers and the elderly, then allocating 'extra' doses at the practice's discretion. Bray acknowledged he knew Goldstein but did not speak to whether the CEO and his acquaintances were in his care, citing HIPAA privacy rules."
'UCLA is operating extremely by the book'
Dr. Robert Ansell, director of UCLA's executive health program — which the outlet pointed out "is or isn't a concierge health service," depending on who you ask — said that he has been receiving an incredible amount of interest in concierge patients receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
"UCLA is operating extremely by the book and hasn't given a single shot to the concierge patients," one member of the service told Variety, which noted that the health program requires a fee as well as a donation to the UCLA Medical Center that costs in the $15,000 to $25,000 range on an annual basis.
A spokesperson for UCLA told Variety that "philanthropic support is in no way a criterion to determine vaccine candidacy, and no program or options exist to bypass vaccination priorities at UCLA Health."
The spokesperson insisted that the organization is "following the direction of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health."
Variety also reported that Hollywood "managers, agents, producers, and a few film directors" have also modified their day-to-day operations in order to "focus on helping clients and stars find vaccines for family members."
"It's 'The Hunger Games' out there," an anonymous "top entertainment executive" told the outlet.
What has been the response to these allegations?
One former health care worker — who now works as a media executive — told the outlet that the behavior is shameful.
"Industry people in these positions should be using their power to help and heal the system, not hurt it," the person said, speaking under the condition of anonymity.
Dr. Art Caplan, who is director of the division of medical ethics at the NYU School of Medicine, added that such behavior is abusive and manipulative.
"It's bad behavior," he insisted. "It should not be condoned. We should find ways to penalize it. We've got 91-year-olds waiting, health care workers waiting. People who are wealthy can easily find ways to quarantine, mask, and stay isolated for another month or two, and more vaccine will become available."