Ask any Hollywood insider if they know somebody who has pulled strings to get an early dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the answer is almost always a quick “no” — followed immediately by a confession that, well, they do know someone who knows someone who chartered a private jet to fly to another state for just that purpose. Some share stories of celebrities volunteering at vaccination centers just to get a leftover inoculation at the end of the day, or showrunners asking doctors to hook up their cast and crew so they can keep filming.
Everyone in Hollywood wants immunity, and lots of people are looking into what it would take to get it — but they are also terrified of potential public shaming. If the college-admissions scandal that sent Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman to prison taught industry heavyweights anything, it’s that even they can be punished for jumping the line. No one wants to get caught in the next Operation Varsity Blues. If politicians were to decide that entertainment was “essential,” though? That might be a different story. Amid the chaos of vaccine rollout and the spread of new virus variants, we spoke to the VIPs of film and TV (most of whom would only speak off the record), and the doctors who treat them, about the biggest shot in Hollywood.
The New Jet Set
Executive for an entertainment-publicity firm
People are chartering planes from New York and L.A. to Florida for doses. I’ve had people telling me they’re thinking about trying to get the vaccine. They ask, “How bad will this look if I’m found out?” You could be dismissed from your position. You could see your personal stock tarnished. It would be worse than the college-admissions scandal. Nobody wants to take that risk. “How bad will this look?” You’ll be a fucking pariah immediately.
I’m Not a Line Jumper! But …
Producer of a popular streaming show
We’re starting up shooting again on March 1. The world is still fucked, but the streamer wants us to go back, and everybody wants to work. The No. 1 actress on our call sheet is a nightmare. She’s scared. She’s freaked out. She’s young, not old — she would not at all be in the 1a category. She didn’t want to come back for our new season until she got the vaccine. I asked, “Hey, does [streaming-service name redacted] have a plan for getting us doses?” They were the ones providing the tests and all the PPE. But the answer was “no.”
The showrunner was able to find some very well-respected doctors who would be willing to carve out a certain number of vaccine shots. We’re a small group. We’re bubbling. We’re doing everything right, socially distancing. And this doctor would be willing to provide it to our bubble. It was presented to me as, “We’re not doing anything illegal. It’s been offered.”
Now, I’m not a line jumper. I don’t feel I deserve it right now. But I was talking to a friend who is a big doctor at a hospital in L.A., and she’s like, “If you’re offered the vaccine right now, take it! If you’re being offered the opportunity to protect yourselves, to protect your work environment, you have to.”
It’s not a cut-and-dried situation. The cancel culture is something that will 100 percent have to be weighed. As I said to the showrunner, “The optics on this might crush us.” But there are a lot of people that need to go back to work. They can’t go back to work in an unsafe environment because then everything collapses. It was brought up to me that there may be a chance that we’ll get 20 doses. It’s not like 2,000! So we’re looking into it. Everybody’s looking into it.
There are no more drug dealers in this town. I can get any drug I want, and it doesn’t even matter at this point. It’s the vaccine dealer that everybody wants on speed dial.
Healthy But Canceled
Entertainment lawyer with A-list clientele
I’m not talking to any actors or executives who are like, “I’m cutting the line.” I just know people who really want the vaccine. I don’t know anyone doing anything desperate or weird or thinking that they’re better than anybody else to get it. In fact, maybe the opposite. We live in a world right now where you can’t speak. And if you do something wrong, your whole life can be ended. We’re not in a free world anymore. And I think people are concerned about that.
It’s not like the college-admissions scandal. That’s different. Those people were lying. To go to your doctor and say, “Hey, I’d like it. I have so-and-so in my family who is immunocompromised. I’d like to get the vaccine.” It’s like … who wouldn’t just try to say that?
My Patients Want the Best
Concierge doctor in L.A. who does house calls for celebrities, professional athletes, and entertainment executives
My patients are concierge patients. They’ve chosen to pay a premium to prioritize their health, either because they have the financial means to do so or because they have health-care issues that make their health a priority. So this isn’t new to me, to have them asking for the latest and best medical care. This is something they ask, not just about COVID vaccines but anytime there are health-care advancements. They asked for stem-cell therapy when it was first introduced to the market; they’ll ask for IV therapy. They’re just health optimizers in general.
I’ve heard a lot of things anecdotally about people offering money or finding backdoor channels to get vaccines. Mostly, my patients have asked, “How can I get access to the vaccine?” I tell people, “Listen, in the first wave, it’s going to health-care providers. There’s really nothing I can do.” Most people understand there’s a scarcity issue, so I think they are a little bit less aggressive about demanding the vaccine. Because they understand that if they get a dose, that means someone who is in need doesn’t get a dose. Versus testing, which was just a clusterfuck, for lack of a better word.
At the end of the day, we just need to get vaccinated. The government is going to need to come in and buy more vaccines, turn gymnasiums and parking lots into vaccine-distribution centers. I think we’re going to have to rip the Band-Aid off here, take off the gloves, and just start getting this vaccine out to people, as opposed to being so careful about who gets it first.
It Takes a Certain Type
Hollywood talent manager
I just heard from someone I know who got vaccinated early. I was so put off by the whole thing — I was like, I can’t believe he would do that. It’s so unseemly! It takes a certain kind of person. You can almost clock the kind of person who would do it. If they went to Aspen or St. Barts for Christmas, they’re going to skip the line. They’re going to skip the line to flaunt their wealth.
The Real VIPs Don’t Care
Concierge doctor on the Upper East Side with socialite and celebrity clientele
When they started rolling out the vaccine, I thought I was going to get inundated with calls. But most of my patients are tucked away in the Hamptons or St. Barts. Nobody is demanding it because of who they are. There’s not a lot of screaming and yelling. There was more screaming and yelling for people who wanted to get a ventilator available in their home.
But my colleagues out in L.A. are getting calls from [film and television] production companies trying to get people certified as essential workers. Not frontline workers, but essential workers during the pandemic — I guess because people need to be entertained when they’re at home? The way the government works out there — it’s really helpful to the entertainment industry. I would not be surprised if local leaders made some concessions. Anything can happen in California.
*This article appears in the February 15, 2021, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
More From This Series
- What I Learned in the Late-Night Joke Mines
- I’m an On-Set ‘COVID Person,’ Whatever That Means
- I’m a Writer on Cop Shows. A Lot Doesn’t Sit Right With Me.