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article imageCOVID-19 vaccine easy to get with the right amount of money

By Karen Graham     Jan 10, 2021 in Health
The much-criticized rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has laid the groundwork for a scenario in which the rich and the politically connected use their money and power to cut in line and get vaccinated before everyone else - a black market for the "haves."
Athletes, politicians, and other wealthy or well-connected people have managed to get special treatment during the coronavirus pandemic, including preferential access to testing and unapproved therapies. And with the rollout of the vaccines - it will likely be the same for these "special" groups.
The CDC recommends that initial supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine be allocated to healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents. This is referred to as Phase 1a. CDC’s recommendations are based on those from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), an independent panel of medical and public health experts.
In Phase1b, essential workers such as firefighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the educational sector will get the vaccine.
Also in Phase 1b, those people aged 75 years and older will be vaccinated because they are considered at high risk of hospitalization, illness, and death from COVID-19. And of course, as vaccine availability increases, vaccination recommendations will expand to include more groups.
But nowhere in the CDC recommendations does it say that big hospital donors or teachers and administrative personnel in wealthy school districts can get the vaccine ahead of the line - simply because they have money.
The Moderna Covid-19 vaccine requires very low temperatures for storage
The Moderna Covid-19 vaccine requires very low temperatures for storage
Joseph Prezioso, AFP/File
This is going on now
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has threatened to impose fines of up to $1 million and revoke the licenses of doctors, nurses, and others for breaking the state and federal guidelines. And in Miami, Florida, there are already reports of wealthy hospital donors getting preferential treatment.
Three South Florida hospital systems, Jackson Health, Mount Sinai Medical Center, and Baptist Health — have already reached out and offered vaccines to some donors in advance of the general public, according to the Miami Herald.
The Miami Herald does say that the hospitals did confirm that donors were among those receiving the vaccine in advance of the general public - but they were within the age group prioritized by Florida, and the Herald found no evidence to the contrary.
And in Colorado, there is a similar situation brewing due to nurses and educators in wealthier public school districts and private schools getting inoculated first, reports NBC News.
“It’s a little frustrating that districts who already don’t have the same wealth accumulated around them were lower on the totem pole,” said a ninth-grade teacher in Aurora Public Schools, one of the poorest in the Denver area, who asked not to be identified by name. “The districts that already were receiving a lot of support got this before districts that need more support.”
Vaccination is already under way in some of the world's wealthiest nations  including the Unite...
Vaccination is already under way in some of the world's wealthiest nations, including the United States, Britain, European Union countries and Canada
Jacob King, POOL/AFP
Ethics and the black market
Arthur Caplan of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and one of the nation’s top bio-ethicists says that as the vaccine becomes more available, we can expect to see a greater divide between the "haves and have-nots."
“We’re hearing about some politicians, some trustees of big hospitals, and others getting shots ahead of health care workers and elderly people,” Caplan said. “I’m also hearing that some [drug manufacturing and distribution] companies are saying that as soon as the government contracts are filled, they’re going to make getting vaccines for themselves a priority.”
This will undoubtedly result in higher prices for everyone. "Anything that’s seen as life-saving, life-preserving, and that’s in short supply creates black markets,” Caplan said, echoing remarks he made in an interview last month.
Michael Einhorn, the president of medical supplier Dealmed, says that there is already a black market for unregulated drugs. "And the issue is that products will be imported from foreign countries that may not have as strict regulations as the United States — where the product can be diverted, sold on the side and imported to the United States."
Jonathan Cushing of Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog organization, issued a similar warning in November.
“The vaccine is likely to have a high ‘street value’, making government supplies an attractive target for theft and diversion unless adequate safeguards are built into supply chains,” Cushing wrote. And while he has not seen any black market issues in the U.S. so far, Cushing says the "potential is there."
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