A health care provider in New York may have fraudulently obtained COVID-19 vaccines and diverted them to members of the public in violation of priority guidelines, the state government said on Saturday.
New York state police has started a criminal investigation into the matter, which could be the state’s first vaccine distribution-related scandal.
The State Department of Health is aware of reports that ParCare Community Health Network, a provider with a clinic in upstate Orange County, “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, the state’s health commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement.
ParCare Community Health Network said it is “actively cooperating with the State of New York’s inquiries and providing information” regarding compliance with New York State DOH procedures for obtaining the vaccine and being approved by New York State DOH for distribution, according to a statement. A ParCare representative confirmed all unused vaccines had been willingly returned to the state.
ParCare’s website shows it has six locations, including four in Brooklyn, New York, and says its patients are “mainly Orthodox Hasidic Jews, Hispanics, and African Americans.”
A hyperlocal Orthodox Jewish news site, BoroPark 24, published a story on Dec. 21, saying ParCare had received a shipment of Moderna’s vaccines, and showed boxes of the vaccines in what appeared to be a refrigerator. It also had what appeared to be a copy of a ParCare advertisement touting availability of “The Newest Healthcare Revolution! on a first come first serve basis.”
Gary Schlesinger, chief executive officer of ParCare, was cited saying people who are a “health care worker, are over 60, or have underlying conditions” can register online to get a vaccine.
That differs from state guidelines, which allow only frontline health care workers, or staff and residents of nursing homes, to get the first batch of vaccines.
“We take this very seriously and DOH will be assisting State Police in a criminal investigation into this matter,” said Zucker in the statement. “Anyone found to have knowingly participated in this scheme will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”