“Celebrities Have Access to Better Care Than Ordinary People”

As the passages quoted below suggest, Trump’s friends may have had access to drugs that not everyone had access to. But it also should be acknowledged that Trump was pushing for Covid-19 drugs to be available sooner and with fewer restrictions.

(p. A25) Both the Regeneron and Eli Lilly therapies are meant for people who are at risk of getting sick enough with Covid to be hospitalized, not those who are hospitalized already. The emergency use authorization for the Regeneron treatment specifically says that it is “not authorized” for “adults or pediatric patients who are hospitalized due to Covid-19.”

A physician with experience administering the new monoclonal antibodies, who didn’t want to use his name because he’s not authorized by his hospital to speak publicly, said giving them to Giuliani “appears to be an inappropriate use outside the guidelines of the E.U.A. for a very scarce resource.” Very scarce indeed: According to the Department of Health and Human Services, as of Wednesday the entire country had about 77,000 total doses of the Regeneron cocktail and almost 260,000 doses of Eli Lilly’s monoclonal antibody treatment. That’s less than you’d need to treat everyone who’d tested positive in just the previous two days.

Right now, the criteria for distributing these drugs can be murky. Robert Klitzman, co-founder of the Center for Bioethics at Columbia, said that the federal government allocates doses to states, states allocate them to hospitals and hospitals then decide which patients among those most at risk will get treated. Some states have developed guidelines for monoclonal antibody treatment, “but my understanding is that most states have not yet done that,” Klitzman said.

Hospitals try to come up with ethical triage frameworks, but Klitzman told me there are often workarounds for V.I.P.s. He said it helps to know someone on the hospital’s board. Such bodies typically include wealthy philanthropists. Often, he said, when these millionaires and billionaires ask hospital administrators for special treatment for a friend, “hospitals do it.”

Why? “Hospitals have huge financial problems, especially at the moment with Covid,” he said. They’ve had to shut down profitable elective surgeries and treat many people without insurance. More than ever, he said, they “need money that is given philanthropically from potential donors.”

In other words, Giuliani was right: Celebrities have access to better care than ordinary people. “When someone is in the public eye, or if someone is a potential donor, or has already been a donor to a hospital, then there’s folks in the hospital hierarchy, in the administration, who are keenly aware if they’re coming in, if they’re present, if they need something,” said Shoa Clarke, a cardiologist and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. Covid, which is leading to rationing of medical resources, only magnifies this longstanding inequality.

For the full commentary, see:

Michelle Goldberg. “Why Trump Cronies Get Covid Meds.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 12, 2020): A25.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 10, 2020, and has the title “Covid Meds Are Scarce, but Not for Trump Cronies.” The passage quoted above includes several sentences, and a couple of words, that appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the commentary.)

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