This week, news broke of a wealthy Canadian couple who, with their multimillion-dollar fortune, had chartered a private jet to an unlikely destination. According to the Vancouver Sun, they left their luxury high-rise building and arrived last Thursday in the small, rural village of Beaver Creek, located at the western border of the vast Yukon territory. Beaver Creek is home to just 100 people, primarily members of the indigenous White River First Nation, and the purpose of the couple’s trip was simple and brief—to receive coronavirus vaccines meant for the community’s vulnerable, elderly residents. To do so, they allegedly disguised themselves as local hotel workers.
Although the couple was caught and ticketed for violating quarantine guidelines, their story is merely the tip of the (Canadian) iceberg. Because now that a coronavirus vaccine has been conjured into existence, the world’s ultrawealthy are convinced that, as with most covetable things throughout history, there must be a way for them to get to it before the masses.
According to a report from The New York Times, one concierge doctor in Manhattan’s old-monied Upper East Side neighborhood fielded countless calls in January, many from stock traders and market executives who were interested in paying the concierge practice’s $20,000 annual fee with the mistaken assumption that it would move them to the front of the line for a coronavirus vaccine.
Others did not want to pay the fee but still wanted the vaccine.
The doctor declined them, according to the report, citing that the state of New York had threatened sanctions of up to $1 million and loss of license to practice against doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers who delivered the vaccine unethically. But despite efforts from New York and other jurisdictions to curb attempts to game the system, enforcement has been challenging and riddled with loopholes.
Beverly Hills celebrity doctor Robert Huizenga, who formerly treated the Los Angeles Raiders, told Variety that some people had asked to pay his practice $10,000 in exchange for a vaccination.
“We’ve been offered bribes,” he said. “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.” Others have reportedly spoken of big hospital donors seeking early access.
Meanwhile, some wealthy vaccine seekers whose country or home state has not afforded them any means to skip the queue are crossing borders to get the job done. In the U.S., wealthy Americans flocked to Florida to receive inoculations after its governor signed an executive order that prioritized vaccinations for people aged 65 and up but did not require them to live in the state. They included former Time Warner chief Richard Parsons, who flew from New York.
“I don’t know how Florida got the march on everyone else. But, you go online. You make an appointment. You get an appointment,” Parsons told CNBC’s Squawk Box, describing what seemed to be a breezy process, despite the fact that thousands of Florida’s senior citizens had tried unsuccessfully to book vaccinations weeks after they were made available.
According to state data, Florida vaccinated nearly 40,000 people from out of state—which reports say also included rich Canadians, Brazilians, Venezuelans, and Argentinians—before the state began requiring proof of residence in order to crack down on “vaccine tourism.”
As the U.S. continues its fraught vaccine rollout, orderly, fair, and ethical distribution remains a moving target, with many vulnerable Americans caught in the crosshairs.
“We’ve got 91-year-olds waiting, healthcare workers waiting,” medical ethics professor Dr. Art Caplan told Variety. “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.”