The first potential COVID-19 vaccine scandal

COVID-19 vaccine
COVID-19 vaccine
Scott Heins for the Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new executive order to increase the penalties for engaging in COVID-19 vaccine fraud.

The first potential COVID-19 vaccine scandal

New York is investigating whether ParCare Community Health Network gave out vaccines to people who didn’t qualify.
December 28, 2020

On Saturday, it was discovered that ParCare Community Health Network, an emergency health care chain, was giving out vaccines to people who weren’t supposed to receive it yet in Brooklyn’s Boro Park, Bensonhurst and Williamsburg neighborhoods.

ParCare is currently facing a criminal investigation by the New York State Police and the state Department of Health over its administration of the vaccine.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new executive order to increase the penalties for engaging in COVID-19 vaccine fraud following this revelation. Now medical clinics and health care practitioners will face a fine of up to $1 million and the revocation of all their state licenses if it is determined that they committed vaccine fraud. “We will not tolerate any fraud in the vaccination process,” Cuomo said. “Anyone who engages in fraud is going to be held accountable.”

Individuals were being given the vaccine by ParCare despite their current ineligibility for the vaccine under New York’s five-phase vaccine distribution schedule. The state is currently still in the first phase, which authorizes front-line medical workers and nursing home patients to receive the vaccine.

ParCare began advertising the vaccine to all its patients on a “first-come, first-serve basis” in mid-December. It also claimed that “the FDA authorized” its use of the vaccine for a few clinics. While it is true that health clinics throughout New York have received doses of the vaccine, they are not allowed to give it to those who do not meet the vaccine requirements. According to a representative from ParCare, it’s estimated that 850 vaccines were administered to the clinics’ patients.

The health network was able to obtain an estimated 2,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the state health department. However, the remaining doses were returned to the state following the launch of the criminal investigation. On Dec. 26, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said, “(The clinics) may have fraudulently obtained (the) 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.”

“We are actively cooperating with the State of New York’s inquiries,” a representative for ParCare said in a statement. “Governor Cuomo himself stressed the importance of getting all the facts, and providing the facts to the state is exactly what we have done and will continue to do, including information regarding compliance with NYS DOH procedures for obtaining the vaccine and being approved by NYS DOH for distribution. As always, our priority continues to be the health and wellbeing of our fellow New Yorkers.”

Correction: This post originally stated that ParCare received 3,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and that it was unclear how the clinic received the vaccine.

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is a staff reporter at City & State.