The wealthy could buy their way to COVID-19 vaccine

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Wealthy clients who shell out big bucks for medical concierge services are pestering their doctors about when they can get the COVID-19 vaccine as industry experts warn about the rich and powerful trying to cut the line. 

“I think there’s abuse in a lot of things in healthcare… I think there’s a lot of over-utilization in medicine, I don’t see why this would be any different,” Dr. Tiffany Sizemore, who runs Concierge Consultants and Cardiology in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, told The Post by phone Friday. 

“Most people really want me to be able to answer that burning question for them, which is when will I have the vaccine and when will I be able to give it to them?” the Sunshine State doctor continued, saying she’s been fielding about 3 to 4 texts or calls a day.

“Concierge patients in general are kind of used to…  having immediate access… They’re used to that ‘press, dial, get’ mentality, which is frankly what they’re paying for, but there are some things that are completely outside of my control and this vaccine is one of them.” 

Dr. Bill Lang, the medical director for WorldClinic, which charges members up to $250,000 a year for 24/7 care, echoed those concerns to STAT. 

“I’ve had at least three texts or calls every day just asking, ‘When do you think I can get a vaccine?’” Lang told the outlet. 

While he said his patients purportedly haven’t asked for special treatment, nor would his clinic offer it, line-cutting will be inevitable in the broader system, the outlet reported.

Another doctor, from New Jersey, who treats private clients said they have one question for her: “How fast can we get it?” 

“They’re just saying ‘as soon as the vaccines are going to be out there, who’s going to be the first person to get them? When will we be able to get it?” the doctor told The Post, adding she’s getting about 10 vaccine calls a week. 

Vials of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine are seen before they are packaged inside a lab at Serum Institute of India, in Pune, India.
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“We are hoping to be able to supply [the vaccine] to patients, to whoever’s in need of it and wants it, we did apply for the rights to distribute it and administer it.” 

The medical professional said she’s not worried about abuse and is confident patients and doctors will do the right thing but bioethicists and other medical experts aren’t convinced. 

For one, an easy opening that could be exploited by wealthy patients is how doctors characterize high-risk medical conditions, which will warrant early access to the vaccine, STAT reported. 

If a doctor plays up a patient’s mild asthma and says it’s more serious than it is, it could justify early access to the life-saving booster, Jonathan Cushing from the nonprofit Transparency International, which focuses on global corruption, told STAT. 

“It’s a market-based economy. You as a doctor want to keep your clients coming back,” Cushing explained. 

“My expectation is there’s always going to be a grey area when it comes to interpretation of who’s appropriate to receive a vaccine,” Andrew Olanow, the co-founder of the exclusive Sollis Health concierge service, which serves patients in Manhattan, the Hamptons, Miami and Los Angeles, added to The Post. 

“But I still think the substance of the way the decision is going to be made will be done with the best intentions for what’s best for the society at large.” 

Dr. Nir Eyal, a professor of bioethics at Rutgers University, said anyone who tries to cut the line would “be wrongful and potentially illegal.” 

“We should clamp down on such attempts if and when they arise,” Eyal told The Post in an email. 

“What I wouldn’t do is let the fact that some people are trying to overcome the system cast doubt on that important system. Vaccines are a safe and efficacious intervention that we all need, and need for each other to receive, so that we can live together safely. All the more so for COVID vaccines.”

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