Gov says practitioners who abuse COVID-19 vaccine will be subject to penalties

FILE PHOTO: A small bottle labeled with a “Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine” sticker and a medical syringe in front of displayed USA flag in this illustration
REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced new penalties designed to rein in possible vaccination fraud, as suspected by Parcare Community Health Network — a healthcare provider with clinics across Brooklyn which allegedly received and distributed the vaccine to members of the public not yet eligible under state and federal law.

According to the governor, practitioners who break these laws will be subject to a $1 million fine and have all state licenses revoked.

“You’ll have fraud in the vaccine process it’s almost an inevitable function of human nature, and of the marketplace. Vaccines are valuable and there’ll be people who break the law, and we’re looking at one health care provider who may have done that,” Cuomo said. “That will apply to a provider, a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist — any licensed health care professional. So, if you engage in fraud on this vaccine, we will remove your license to practice in the state of New York.”

State Police will lead investigations into healthcare providers who misrepresent their vaccine distribution methods, according to Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who said cases will then be passed off to Attorney General Letitia James.

“We provide them the vaccine because they fraudulently filled out a form that said that they were a qualified health center, that was incorrect, so that was strike one and number two they moved it from one area to another area, which was inappropriate,” explained Zucker of what he called a “three-strike” process. “So that’s strike two, and then they gave it to people who were not on the priority list and so that was strike three.”

ParCare, which has been known to partner with the city and state in getting out public health messaging to Orthodox Jewish communities, has clinics in Borough Park, Bensonhurst and Williamsburg, as well as in Manhattan and Orange County. In a press release issued Dec. 26, Zucker said the health network “may have fraudulently obtained COVID-19 vaccine, transferred it to facilities in other parts of the state in violation of state guidelines and diverted it to members of the public.”

In a statement to the New York Post the next day, the group maintained it followed all proper procedures to obtain the Moderna vaccines, but “in an effort to fully cooperate with NYS DOH, ParCare has proactively returned its vaccines pending the Department’s review.” A similar statement promising compliance was posted to the network’s Facebook page.

The allegations of fraud come amid an apparent drop in the number of New Yorkers getting tested for COVID-19. That number was halved over the holiday weekend, Cuomo said, but hospitals are still seeing a steady stream of patients as the statewide positivity rate has risen to around 8.3 percent.

Hospitalizations were also up as of Monday, with 7,559 — an increase of about 400 since Sunday, according to the governor.

But, 368,600 vaccination doses will have been distributed to New York City in total by the end of the week, Cuomo said Monday, with urgent care facility workers and congregate care facilities among the top priority of those receiving the vaccine.

Next week, ambulatory care health workers and public care workers will be eligible to receive the vaccine.

A version of this story first appeared on AMNY.com