Hollywood actors

Hollywood Actors in COVID-19 Vaccine Scramble: “It’s the Hunger Games”

As coronavirus vaccines spread across the country and new infections and deaths rise at an alarming rate in cities like Los Angeles, some powerful entertainment and media players are leveraging their influence and skills. relationships to be among the first to get vaccinated.

Many high-flying executives and negotiators have used private doctors and concierge services to receive one of two established COVID-19 vaccines on the market. Others have tapped into their vast resources in a mad rush to get vaccinated as the government, particularly in Hollywood’s native California, navigates a slow rollout.

Some efforts to receive the vaccine earlier than expected violate no law — though they have raised questions of ethics and good taste in exclusive social circles and boardrooms across Los Angeles. It’s also clear that the power and wealth, which allow many in the Hollywood community to afford on-demand doctors and access to private jets to engage in vaccine tourism, has allowed them to vaccinate more safely and effectively than average citizens. It illustrates the gaping chasm that exists between the haves and the have-nots in this country when it comes to health care.

Some media heavyweights are openly exploring options outside of LA County’s health care system in what they see as a race for life against the high demand and limited supply of vaccines.

Music industry legend Irving Azoff was among those who got a vaccine recently, in mid-January when Los Angeles County expanded access to vaccines for citizens 65 and older, a new level that previously only prioritized healthcare workers and those over 75. These extended inoculations were not available at LA-area testing sites like Dodgers Stadium or The Forum concert venue until Tuesday of last week. While sources said Azoff facilitated vaccines for those within his sphere of influence, he only confirmed his own inoculation.

“I am a 73 year old cancer survivor. I recently had part of my intestine removed. Damn, I got the shot, and I’m glad I did. Everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated as soon as they can,” Azoff said. Variety.

Sources say Azoff is among several notable people recommended to Dr. Robert Bray, a neurological spine surgeon whose specialty practice is based in Newport Beach, California. Bray is referred in power circles by Robert Goldstein, sources said, the interim chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, owner of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas and similar properties in Macau.

While a representative for Goldstein had no comment, Dr. Bray said his practice does not operate as a private concierge and he was given 200 vaccinations by the state. His practice observed California’s tier system, he said, offering vaccines to healthcare workers and the elderly, then assigning “additional” doses at the practice’s discretion. Bray acknowledged that he knew Goldstein but did not specify whether the CEO and his acquaintances were dependent on him, citing HIPAA privacy rules.

While the state expanded its vaccination criteria last week, vaccine availability continues to be an issue nationwide. Los Angeles County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the United States. Residents began going to Dodgers Stadium to wait hours for the vaccine. A witness at the scene saw a top Hollywood marketer idle for so long online with the general public last Tuesday, they feared the individual’s Tesla Model X was running out of battery. Yet in a culture of extreme VIPs, others don’t care to wait. It leads to despair, said an industry carer.

Beverly Hills-based Dr. Robert Huizenga confirmed Variety that his practice has been offered for more than $10,000 by individuals, including members of the entertainment industry, desperate to get vaccinated.

“We were offered bribes. We see people taking airplanes at every location. We’ve seen people trying to transition into the health profession or nursing home staff so they qualify for an early vaccine,” said the doctor, who also appeared as a pundit on NBC’s weight loss competition show “The Biggest Loser.”

Huizenga said individuals in the entertainment space were well represented among those jostling for a first shot, in a “fight for their lives”. You can’t really blame them for going all out. The state and the government have put in place a system that is truly appalling.

Hundreds of elite executives, agents and stars are powerfully attacking their high-profile healthcare providers in Los Angeles’ Westside neighborhoods, where a major vaccination site has yet to be designated . People enrolled in UCLA’s Executive Health Program (which may or may not be a concierge health service, depending on who you ask) have flooded program director Dr. Robert Ansell for information on when where they can receive the vaccine.

“UCLA operates extremely by the book and hasn’t given Concierge patients a single chance,” a member of the department said. UCLA’s executive health program requires a fee and a donation to the UCLA Medical Center, which costs between $15,000 and $25,000 a year, many members said, in addition to quality medical care. Some members have spoken openly to industry figures on the UCLA Board of Trustees – including United Talent Agency Co-Chair Jay Sures, Mandalay Entertainment CEO Peter Guber and former Chief from Paramount Pictures Sherry Lansing – about the vaccine rollout in Los Angeles, and asking when concierge patients might be eligible.

A UCLA spokesperson said, “Philanthropic support is by no means a criteria for determining vaccine candidacy, and no programs or options exist to circumvent vaccination priorities at UCLA Health. We follow direction of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and are prioritizing healthcare workers, followed by patients 65 and older who face the greatest risk based on their health status. As supplies increase and guidelines develop, we are ready to increase the number of people who are offered the opportunity to be vaccinated.

A UTA spokesperson and Guber did not immediately respond to Varietyrequest for comment. Lansing confirmed that vaccine-eligible friends and colleagues only recently called her for information on how to enroll in the vaccine and insisted that “no one has ever asked me to break the line or to use influence”.

Los Angeles residents reaching out to boutique doctors also filled a waiting list at famed Beverly Hills drugstore Mickey Fine, the Roxbury Drive haunt that touted state-of-the-art vaccine refrigeration in their adjoining pharmacy and cafe. The location has yet to administer a single hit, those on the waitlist said. In an audio message to patients, the pharmacy confirms that they have not yet received any of the currently available vaccines.

Managers, agents, producers and a few movie directors have ditched their day-to-day business to focus on helping clients and stars find vaccines for family members, insiders said. Some notable names are using their own shoe leather, not representatives, to research the vaccine.

Harrison Ford spent two and a half hours waiting in line at El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif., last week after making his own appointment. A rep for the 78-year-old star declined to comment further but sent his thanks to medical professionals and volunteers on the ground. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 73-year-old former Republican Governor of California, recently shared a similar experience in East Los Angeles on his social media accounts. Oscar-nominated producer Frank Marshall, 74, last Thursday tweeted a photo of his vaccination paperwork, received at a Kroger supermarket. Steve Martin documented his wait at the Javitz Center in New York.

“It’s ‘The Hunger Games’ over there,” said a senior entertainment executive, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Not all are just navigating California’s Byzantine vaccination process. Allen Shapiro, the 73-year-old former CEO of Golden Globes television producer Dick Clark Productions, reportedly recently flew to Florida on a private jet to seek the vaccine with friends. Sources say Variety which Shapiro flew privately — but alone — to Miami. While some reports have decried this as an example of vaccine tourism, insiders say Shapiro owns property and does business in Florida. Additionally, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was openly inviting the 65-plus crowd this month to take advantage of his state’s robust vaccination program without having to verify residency. Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees later reversed Governor DeSantis’ open-door policy, requiring all Floridians to provide proof of residency in order to receive the vaccine. Former Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons, 72, also recently spoke publicly about traveling to Florida from New York to get vaccinated, citing the state’s effectiveness. Others are reportedly flocking to the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Some Hollywood influencers are appalled that people in the industry are using their connections as millions of healthcare workers, seniors, teachers and essential workers line up. As of January 15, reports citing the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said California had administered only 2,716 doses per 100,000 population.

“People in industry in these positions should use their power to help and heal the system, not hurt it,” said a former healthcare worker turned media executive.

Dr. Art Caplan, director of the NYU School of Medicine’s division of medical ethics, said he’s heard of hospital donors seeking early access to the vaccine, or of concierge doctors being asked to provide it early to their wealthy clients.

“It’s bad behavior. This should not be tolerated. We should find ways to penalize it,” he said. “We have 91-year-olds waiting, healthcare workers waiting. Wealthy people can easily find ways to quarantine, mask up and stay isolated for another month or two, and more vaccines will be available. »

Gene Maddaus contributed to this report.