Mo’ money, mo’ problems? More like mo’ money, mo’ vaccines. In news anyone could have predicted, it seems well-off and well-connected people around the world are finding nefarious ways to skip to the front of the coronavirus vaccine line.
Exhibit one: Stacey Griffith, a celebrity SoulCycle instructor who has trained Madonna. In New York, you’re now eligible for a vaccine if you’re an “educator”. Who falls under that definition, exactly? Griffith, who yells motivational quotes at from an exercise bike, decided she did. So off she went to Staten Island to get a shot, documenting the adventure on social media like the modern wellness guru that she is. Bless her healthy heart, she appeared to be genuinely surprised at the backlash she received. “It saddens me that people go so dark and mean,” Griffith told the Daily Beast. “I’m really just trying to do the right thing and be safe.” So were a lot of schoolteachers – however, as Griffith was getting inoculated, the United Federation of Teachers estimated thousands of its members had vaccine appointments cancelled because of supply shortages.
Then there is the Canadian casino executive Rod Baker and his wife. The millionaire couple recently broke quarantine and flew to a remote Indigenous community where they posed as local motel-employees to get their jabs. I would ask how people like this sleep at night, but I already know: they sleep in fancy neighbourhoods in fancy houses in fancy sheets. They sleep just fine.
The mark of someone who has really made it, of course, isn’t having the means to charter a plane to cheat the system – it’s being invited to cheat by the system. A number of hospitals in the US are under fire for offering early vaccine access to trustees, donors and board members. Meanwhile, moneyed Brazilians are trying to formalise a system where you can pay to skip the line. Private health clinics are negotiating directly with an Indian pharmaceutical company to secure vaccines for their wealthy clients and President Jair Bolsonaro has said he won’t interfere with these plans. You can always trust Bolsonaro not to do the right thing.
Remember how, at the beginning of the pandemic, everyone used to chirp “we’re all in this together!”? You don’t hear much of that any more because it’s embarrassingly obvious we’re not. Watching wealthy people, who have the means to shield from the virus, being vaccinated before many essential workers is infuriating. Even worse is the fact that there’s not much we can do about it. Making it harder to get a vaccine helps no one: better a few undeserving people slip through the net than a single precious vaccine goes to waste.
As for shaming the vaccine queue-hoppers, numerous studies show the “upper class” are more likely to lack empathy and engage in unethical behaviour. In one example, researchers put a jar of sweets in front of people and attached a note stating the candy was to be taken to a child-research laboratory. Participants who thought of themselves as wealthy took twice as many sweets as those who thought of themselves as poor.
As experts keep telling us, no one is safe until we’re all safe. How many highly contagious mutant viruses is it going to take for the wealthy world to realise that? I really don’t want to find out.