Bribing doctors. Circulating vaccination appointment codes. Chartering planes and impersonating essential workers.
More than a month since the US first began administering COVID-19 vaccines, many people who were not supposed to be first in line have received vaccinations. Anecdotal reports suggest some people have deliberately leveraged widespread vulnerabilities in the distribution process to acquire vaccine.
“There’s dozens and dozens of these stories, and they really show that the rollout was a complete disaster in terms of selling fairness,” said Arthur Caplan, who heads the medical ethics division at the NYU School of Medicine. “It wasn’t that we didn’t have consensus [on who should go first]. We didn’t pay attention to logistics, and that drove distribution, not rules.”
The efforts of one particular couple may take the cake for most extravagant scheme to get vaccinated.
Last month, casino executive Rodney Baker and his wife, actress Ekaterina Baker, chartered a plane to a remote community in Canada where health workers were administering vaccine to vulnerable members of the White River First Nation. The two posed as local motel employees and received vaccinations, according to a member of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. They now face fines.
Former casino chief executive Rodney Baker and his wife, actress Ekaterina Baker. Facebook
Some people have set out to deliberately steal, bribe or manipulate their way to vaccine. Last month, Polk County, Florida’s “2020 Paramedic of the Year” was arrested and charged with stealing vaccines meant for first responders. The first responder confessed to intentionally stealing three doses vaccine and forging paperwork in attempt to cover his actions.
In Philadelphia, a 22-year-old student who got a contract from the city to run its vaccine distribution sign-up admitted that he took four doses home and administered them to friends. The city announced last week that it would no longer work with the startup.
Dr. Robert Huizenga, who runs a practice in Beverly Hills, told Variety that his practice had been offered more than $US10,000 by people, including members of the entertainment industry, who wanted to get vaccinated.
Dr. Ed Goldberg, who runs a practice on the Upper East Side in Manhattan and charges $US20,000 a year, told USA TODAY he’d received calls from people specifically wanting to join his practice if a vaccine is guaranteed. Goldberg said he makes it clear that’s a “no-can-do.”
Officials across the nation have also raised concerns about wealthy donors and board members affiliated with hospitals and care facilities securing vaccinations before their allotted timeslot.
Online booking tools have allowed some people – knowingly or unknowingly – to make appointments and receive shots by circulating web links or event codes intended for priority groups.
In Kansas City, Missouri, people who were not in priority groups were able to get a shot by clicking a scheduling link initially sent to priority patients vetted over the phone, Dr. Rex Archer, director of health at the Kansas City Health Department, told USA TODAY. The same thing happened last month in Tennessee, according to local reports, and again last week in Seattle.
“If anything, this fiasco with the vaccines and line jumping and bad actors and black markets should be the beacon that lets us know it’s time to look at our entire health system,” said Glenn Ellis, a visiting scholar at the National Bioethics Center at Tuskegee University and a bioethics fellow at Harvard Medical School.
“One way or another privilege, power and money is affording access – unscheduled and unnatural access to something. Line-jumping is just another form of that.”