BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — The FDA on Friday night approved a second COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, and in the short time since, concierge physician Dr. Scott Braunstein has been flooded with calls from patients eager to better understand the vaccines and how to get in line for a shot.
“People are scared, and people feel like their life is at stake,” said Dr. Braunstein. “We have had patients inquire when we will be able to procure the vaccine, and we don’t currently have a time table.”
What You Need To Know
- One patient offered to donate $25,000 to Cedars-Sinai for a COVID-19 vaccine — the offer was turned down
- Concierge internal medicine physician Dr. Jeff Toll hopes people do not try to circumvent a system intended to ensure equity, regardless of their fame and status
- Concierge physician Dr. Braunstein he said he has not received any offers like Dr. Toll, but if his team did, their response would echo the same message
- Dr. Braunstein's clients include CEOs, professional athletes, and celebrities who pay up to $5,000 a year in membership dues for more personalized care
At the start of the pandemic, Dr. Braunstein served as an attending emergency room doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and cared for some of the most gravely ill COVID-19 patients, many of whom needed to be intubated.
He is now the medical director of Sollis Health in Beverly Hills, a members-only concierge physicians service that offers 24-hours a day, seven days a week house calls and a private emergency room. Clients include CEOs, professional athletes, and celebrities who pay up to $5,000 a year in membership dues for more personalized care.
"Concierge medicine really for me has been a way to practice medicine in the way that we all went to medical school hoping to practice," said Dr. Braunstein. "We are able to know our patients better, spend longer with them."
He added that, despite the benefits of having essentially an on-call doctor, being able to jump in front of the vaccine line doesn't come with concierge medical service. Dr. Braunstein said his team at Sollis Health has applied to get the vaccines and recently ordered ultra-cold storage freezers for when the doses become available to them, but distribution is in the hands of the government, which has created a series of tiers to prioritize who needs the first doses most.
“Right now, the vaccines are going only to large hospitals for frontline healthcare workers and to nursing homes, and that’s really where they should go,” Dr. Braunstein said. “I don’t feel that having a concierge physician will get you a vaccine any sooner than not having one.”
Yet some people of means in Los Angeles are trying to jump ahead any way they can. A few miles away in Century City, concierge internal medicine physician Dr. Jeff Toll said he's been getting hefty offers from some of his well-to-do clients hoping for early access to the vaccine.
One patient offered to donate $25,000 to Cedars-Sinai, where Dr. Toll has admitting privileges. That offer was promptly turned down.
“People that are used to having what they want when they want, and they’re not used to people saying 'no,' and they’re able to go around the system,” said Dr. Toll. “We’re very much just going to have to tell people that the highest-risk people are getting it first.”
Dr. Toll said he understands the fear surrounding the virus — he actually contracted it himself and recovered back in March — but hopes people don't try to circumvent a system intended to ensure equity, regardless of their fame and status.
“I think it’s very important for all of us to be ethical as physicians and understand that, regardless of who someone is or how much money they’re willing to spend, that we really have to get the vaccine to those who need it first,” he said.
L.A. County’s Department of Public Health said ethical distribution is a priority for the government, as it receives its first doses from Pfizer and Moderna.
“With limited supply of the vaccine at present, decisions about which groups will be prioritized for receiving the first vaccinations become very important,” said Dr. Paul Simon, Chief Science Officer for DPH. “Equity and social justice are fundamental tenants of public health. We are committed to ensuring that those at greatest risk of infection and those most at risk of severe illness if infected have first access to the vaccines.”
Dr. Braunstein said he hasn't received any offers like Dr. Toll, but if his team did, their response would echo the same message.
"I think the entire medical community is together on this, and I don’t think you’re going to be seeing people being able to 'cut the line,'" said Dr. Braunstein. "We want to administer it to the highest-risk people who need it first."