What to Know
- A New York-based healthcare provider accused of illegally obtaining and distributing doses of a coronavirus vaccine has returned its remaining stockpile
- The state claims the provider misrepresented their position, moved doses across the state and distributed to people not on the state's priority list
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he'll sign a new executive order increasing penalties against providers that intentionally disregard prioritization of the vaccine; penalties could result in fines up to $1 million
A New York-based healthcare provider accused of illegally obtaining and distributing doses of a coronavirus vaccine has returned its remaining stockpile, a spokesperson for the company said Monday.
ParCare Community Health Network came under fire over the weekend after the state's top doctor announced a criminal investigation for potential fraud, claiming the vaccine was not being distributed according to state protocols.
Dr. Howard Zucker, commissioner for the state's department of health, said his office received reports of ParCare "fraudulently" obtaining the vaccine and transferring it to "facilities in other parts of the state."
The vaccine doses allegedly diverted for "members of the public" circumvent the state's plan to prioritize the inoculation of frontline healthcare professionals and residents of long-term care facilities, Zucker said Saturday. New York's initial rollout of the vaccine it still limited to hospitals and nursing homes.
"In an effort to fully cooperate with NYS DOH, we have proactively returned the vaccines pending the Department's review," ParCare said Monday morning.
ParCare Community Health Network - identified by the state as a provider in Orange County - services branches throughout a number of Brooklyn neighborhoods as well as the Upper East Side.
The 2,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine secured by ParCare last week were in accordance with NYS DOH protocols and ultimately approved for distribution by the state, the company said.
"We are confident the end result of that review will show that ParCare at all times exerted best efforts to comply with all NYS DOH requirements and will allow us to continue to achieve our number one goal of providing these critical vaccines to the New Yorkers who need them most," ParCare's statement concludes.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that the state's investigation will be referred to the Attorney General Letitia James, who later announced that her office had opened an investigation into the health care provider's distribution.
"In order for the vaccine to be most effective in protecting our communities, we must all follow the same distribution plan," James said in a release. "We will not tolerate any attempts to circumvent that process."
The governor said he'll sign a new executive order increasing penalties against providers that intentionally disregard prioritization of the vaccine; penalties could result in fines up to $1 million.
"Based on how we know the vaccine was transferred, stored and administered, we believe there are multiple crimes that could be charged," Cuomo said, doubling down on the state's claims against ParCare.
On Dec. 16, the company offered doses of the vaccine on a "first come first serve basis" through a social media post on Facebook. The post included a sign-up form for the elderly, people at high-risk, and those with underlying conditions.
One week later, ParCare shared photos of the Moderna vaccine on Twitter, saying the company had received thousands of doses.
The DOH said it wouldn't comment beyond Zucker's Saturday statement.
"We take this very seriously and DOH will be assisting State Police in a criminal investigation into this matter. Anyone found to have knowingly participated in this scheme will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," Zucker said in the Saturday press release.
A statement from ParCare acknowledged the department of health's inquiry and assured cooperation while the state investigates.
"During these unprecedented times, we have striven to provide critical healthcare services and administer COVID-19 vaccinations to those qualified to receive them under the New York State Department of Health's guidelines, which includes frontline healthcare workers and first responders," the statement read, in part.
At the end of October, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a partnership with ParCare to increase the availability of rapid testing in several locations throughout Borough Park and Williamsburg.