7:43pm PT by Chris Gardner
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti Expresses Frustration Over Vaccine Rollout as Hollywood Insiders Jet to Florida for Doses
The hunt for COVID-19 vaccines is on.
Vaccine rollout in many parts of the United States has been delayed or worse, dramatically bungled with eager patients reporting confusing sign-up websites, server crashes or conflicting information from federal, state and county health departments. The Hollywood Reporter has learned that some are taking matters into their own hands (and arms).
Per multiple sources, former Dick Clark Prods. CEO Allen Shapiro traveled by private jet to Florida to take advantage of the expanded vaccine rollout there that, at the time, allowed for anyone age 65 and older to receive a vaccine, residents and non-residents. Sources indicate that Mark Canton was in the mix and received a vaccine in the state as well. They're not alone. Richard Parsons, former chairman and CEO of Time Warner, told CNBC that he traveled from New York to Florida to get his. "It’s orderly and sensible. I don’t know how Florida got the march on everyone else. But you go online. You make an appointment. You get an appointment."
The practice has been referred to by some as vaccine tourism. Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a press conference at a retirement community called The Villages where he dismissed it as not being as widespread as people believe it to be. "It’s not like they’re just vacationing for two weeks," he reportedly said. "They have relationships with doctors. They get medical care in Florida. So that’s a little bit different than somebody that’s just doing tourism." On Tuesday, he held another press conference during which he said he was working on guidelines to limit vaccines to residents, either full or part-time. “That can include people who live here half the year," he said, "but it’s not for people just visiting,”
When asked by THR for comment or clarification on his vaccine trip, Shapiro enlisted two publicists to respond before ultimately enlisting attorney Martin Singer. No official comment was provided though it was suggested by a source that Shapiro has a home in Florida where he also maintains business including a real estate development. As for Canton, a source close to the veteran producer countered the claims, saying, "It is totally untrue that he flew on a private jet anywhere with anyone including Allen Shapiro."
THR reached out to multiple private jet companies to see if bookings or requests have increased for travel to destinations where vaccines are more widely available. A spokesperson for evoJets says that the company has received multiple requests for vaccine flights “mostly from clients who were able to secure out-of-state reservations.” Specifically, two clients booked for travel from New York to Florida thanks to dual residency. The spokesperson added that most of the inquiries were for same-day roundtrip flights in order to fly to receive a vaccine and return home immediately after.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the rollout debacle directly during a press briefing Thursday evening. He acknowledged the delays and confusion that have plagued many residents, while also nodding to outgoing President Donald Trump’s role in the mess. "There’s no question that getting a vaccine as it is right now, twice, to every American is the largest logistical undertaking that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime as an American and it’s happening with a startling lack of clear guidance coming from the Trump administration and coming against the backdrop of hundreds of millions of doses that we should’ve secured and didn’t," he said. "In the midst of that, there are those of us, your county, state and local officials, who run into that fire. Together, with, yes, many good federal folks who are trying to help figure out how we can make sure that as fast as possible to the most vulnerable of our people, we can protect them and move our economy forward."
Garcetti reiterated that two groups are currently eligible to receive vaccines: healthcare workers and seniors in skilled nursing facilities. The vaccines, currently available by either Moderna or Pfizer, are meant to be available at public sites, the offices of primary care physicians or healthcare providers, and pharmacies. He said he has heard concerns about access, saying that there have been website and database crashes as well as frustration over long wait times "and seemingly contradictory information."
"The bottom line is that we don’t have enough vaccines,” summed up Garcetti. "It’s a dual problem: We need more and we need to get them out more quickly."
Last week, Cedars-Sinai Medical Group sent out an email blast to patients with an update on its vaccine rollout plans. But its email — credited to chief medical officer Caroline L. Goldzweig and senior vp of medical affairs Richard Riggs — also acknowledged a lack of information. It noted that California Governor Gavin Newsom said administration of vaccines was to be opened to residents 65 and older but Cedars-Sinai was still waiting for “definitive guidance” from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on "when and how" to implement Newsom’s directive. "At present, we don’t know exactly when we will be able to offer vaccines to our patients," the letter stated, adding that patients should refrain from calling physicians at this time because they are not yet able to offer appointments.
The back-and-forth between state, county and local officials is reminiscent of conflicting guidance at the start of the pandemic over business closures and "safer-at-home" directives. The Hollywood Reporter also obtained an earlier memo sent to Cedars-Sinai donors and board members that made it clear there will be no prioritization based on status. "Distribution of the vaccine is highly regulated. Each lot of the vaccine is numbered, and every distribution site is required to report the use of each vial to ensure the vaccine is being delivered based on state guidelines. States will enact penalties for noncompliance, including rescinding a site’s permission to distribute the vaccine," reads the letter. "Hospitals cannot prioritize vaccinations for any group other than those prioritized by law, including state and county health authorities. As a result of this, there will not be a vaccination opportunity solely because someone is a [board of governors] member or other type of major donor. … We simply do not have the autonomy or authority to act in any other way."
It all comes down to a waiting game. But Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' Hilda Solis accelerated the process Monday night when she signed an executive order to make vaccines available to residents aged 65 and older, falling in line with Newsom's earlier mandate. Per reports, residents 65 and older will be able to sign up for an appointment beginning Thursday, however, some websites including one partner site affiliated with L.A. is up and running with appointments available now.
Jan. 19, 10:21 p.m.: Updated to reflect Gov. DeSantis's new guidelines to limit vaccines to full or part-time residents.
Jan. 20, 3:36 p.m.: Updated with information on private jet requests.
Jan. 21, 5:09 p.m.: Updated to reflect the private jet’s unknown starting point and Canton’s involvement on the trip.
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.