Mar 13, 2021 - Health

Wealthy people are taking COVID-19 vaccines allotted for others

Photo of a masked nurse giving someone a vaccine shot

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

America's wealthiest are finding ways to access the vaccine ahead of those who qualify for it.

Why it matters: The pandemic has already widened existing health inequities and underserved communities continue to lag in vaccinations compared to the white and rich.

The incident: In January, Florida's Baptist Health Systems helped vaccinate 1,200 residents of the wealthy Ocean Reef community, but the doses came from its storage of vaccines for the general public, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

  • Though Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) insists the state was "not involved," a Baptist Health spokesperson said the Medical Center at Ocean Reef asked the state of Florida for doses, which the state then requested from Baptist Health.
  • Some of the beneficiaries were wealthy Republican donors who had contributed to DeSantis' political action committee, Axios' Ben Montgomery reported.
  • Baptist Health was forced to cancel vaccine appointments for "hundreds of people" due to the shortage, according to the Times. DeSantis has since faced backlash.

But that's not the only case of wealthy folks skirting the line.

  • In Philadelphia, the 22-year-old CEO of a COVID-response startup was caught taking home doses for his friends.
  • In another instance, nursing-home board members and major donors were invited to get the vaccine meant for residents in West Palm Beach, Florida.
  • The Los Angeles Times has reported that affluent Californians are taking vaccines meant for Black and Latino communities.
  • Wealthy clients in Los Angeles and New York City offered donations of up to $25,000 to concierge doctors in exchange for the vaccine.
  • "Suddenly our clinic was full of white people," George Jones, the head of a nonprofit that runs a medical clinic, told the New York Times in February. "We’d never had that before. We serve people who are disproportionately African-American."

The big picture: An analysis of local vaccine data in 10 states with the biggest wealth gaps found that a number of states had vaccinated a significantly higher proportion of people in the wealthiest counties, according to STAT.

  • Connecticut has the most "glaring disparity" in vaccination rates between its richest and poorest communities with a difference of 65%.
  • California, Florida, New Jersey and Mississippi have also vaccinated people in the wealthiest 10% of counties at much higher rates.
  • Cities continue to struggle with adequately reaching lower-income communities of color.

The Biden administration has allocated $250 million in grants for community organizations in an effort to combat inequities in cities' response to the coronavirus.

  • States such as Colorado and Minnesota are attempting to address gaps in vaccine distribution as well.

Go deeper: "Vaccine tourism" stretches states' supplies

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