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Some wealthy Americans accused of getting vaccines before they're eligible: "Really disturbing inequity"

Some wealthy people try to cut vaccine line
Doctors say some wealthy and well-connected people are trying to cut vaccine line 05:22

Since the coronavirus vaccine rollout began shipping in the U.S. in December, it is up to the individual states to determine who gets the vaccine. Although considered essential workers, teachers under the age of 65 are not eligible to get the vaccine in Florida and it's unclear when they will be.

"Just as essential workers like firefighters and police are being prioritized, so should have teachers," Miami-Dade County Public School teacher Karla Hernandez-Mats told CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez. 

Hernandez-Mats is the president of the largest teachers union in the Southeastern United States, United Teachers of Dade. The union represents more than 30,000 employees in the Miami-Dade County Public School System.

Her frustration comes amid a state and federal investigation looking into reports that some wealthy Americans are trying to get vaccinated before they are eligible, and in some cases may have been successful.

MorseLife Health System, a care center in West Palm Beach, Florida, is accused of giving vaccines to its rich donors who do not live at its assisted living facility. It was reportedly organized by two New York real estate moguls on the board of directors.

"You have basically given the vaccine to hundreds and hundreds of different private providers and are trusting they are going to do the right thing," Florida Representative Omari Hardy said. He oversees the district where MosseLife Health System is located.  

"It just goes to show that there's been a pandemic for the rich and there has been another pandemic for the rest of us who are not rich and well connected," he said. 

Dr. Edward Goldberg is a concierge doctor in New York City. His patients pay him a fee of $20,000, which covers their personalized care. 

He said that people assume that because he is a concierge doctor, he can give the COVID vaccine to them. 

"It's really more people who aren't my existing patients. I'm getting a lot of phone calls from people like 'You're a concierge doctor. I will join if you will come to my home and give me a COVID vaccine," he said. "What I tell people is if they are part of my practice, I will let them know immediately when they are eligible but I really don't have the ability to adjust the waiting list."

In December, Dr. Ehsan Ali, a Beverly Hills, California doctor, told CBS News that dozens of people offered to pay him to cut the vaccine line. Ali said he refused the offers and now he said he's heard of people getting the vaccine through their hospital or government connections. 

"People are willing to do what it takes to get this vaccine," he said. 

In California, the state's medical board recently warned that providers who do not properly distribute and administer the vaccine could have their medical license revoked. In January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also said he planned to introduce legislation that would make it a crime to help someone skip the vaccine line.

Holly Fernandez Lynch, an assistant professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said people of means are used to being able to get their hands on resources by paying more money. 

"The people who are most vulnerable to COVID are racial and ethnic minorities. And it has nothing to do with biology or genetics or any of that. It has to do with how those features correlate with other types of inequity in our country, in terms of what types of jobs people have, where people are living," Fernandez Lynch said.

"Is our health care system set up where clearly it's an advantage to have money when it comes to prioritizing yourself?" Bojorquez asked. 

"Certainly, the vaccine is one teeny tiny example of that," Fernandez Lynch said. "This is just one tiny microcosm of the really, really disturbing inequity that we see in the American health care system."

CBS News reached out to MorseLife Health System, the facility in West Palm Beach, as well as the representatives of the two real estate moguls who are accused of helping their wealthy friends to get the vaccine. CBS News has not heard back from either.

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