Health care providers that commit coronavirus vaccine fraud could face up to $1 million in fines and the loss of their state licenses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
The stiff penalties will be enacted under an executive order Cuomo signed Monday.
The executive order applies to providers, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and any licensed health care professional.
The move comes as ParCare, a health care network with centers in the city, is being investigated for possibly obtaining the vaccine fraudulently.
On December 16, ParCare tweeted a flyer saying it had been authorized to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine for the elderly, those at high risk and people with underlying conditions. The flyer said the limited doses would be available on a first come, first serve basis.
But over the weekend, the New York State Police logged reports that ParCare had received the vaccine and was administering it to the general public despite the fact the vaccine is only being made available to some essential workers, including health care workers and nursing home residents.
The governor said during his briefing that his office believes ParCare could be charged with multiple crimes. The case is now being referred to state Attorney General Letita James.
“We want to send a clear signal to the providers,” said Cuomo. “If you violate the laws on these vaccinations, we will find out and you will be prosecuted."
In a statement, James said, “My office is launching an investigation into ParCare over allegations that it wrongfully distributed and administered COVID-19 vaccines. In order for the vaccine to be most effective in protecting our communities, we must all follow the same distribution plan. We will not tolerate any attempts to circumvent that process.”
ParCare said it is cooperating with the state's investigations.
“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," ParCare said in a statement. "As always, our priority continues to be the health and wellbeing of our fellow New Yorkers.”
A sign reading "No Vaccines" was taped on the door at the Williamsburg location for ParCare Community Health Network Monday.
Mark Appel said he received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine at the Williamsburg location on December 23.
“It was spread around the community. Different WhatsApp groups, different Facebook announcements that the vaccine would be available at ParCare," he said. "So I called a couple of times, found out it was available and just drove down there."
The 68-year-old Appel said he is diabetic and has been working at food pantries throughout the community the last nine months.
“I felt as someone who is really exposed to the community on a daily basis, I got to get the shot. so I went and got the shot," he said. "So I didn’t feel bad jumping in line ahead of anybody."
The Brooklyn-based community health network said it has returned its remaining vaccine supply to the state.
The governor said he expects more vaccine fraud to take place as the shot becomes more widely available.
He announced that at least 259,000 more vaccines are expected to arrive in New York State by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, as health care workers are working to vaccinate priority groups, coronavirus cases are continuing to rise across the state.
The statewide seven-day positivity rate now stands at just above 8%, a dramatic increase from the 5% rate recorded on Friday.
Today's update on the numbers:— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) December 28, 2020
Total COVID hospitalizations are at 7,559.
Of the 124,866 tests reported yesterday, 10,407 were positive (8.33% of total).
Sadly, there were 114 fatalities. pic.twitter.com/59DAGYAtSR
But the governor cautioned that the number might not be telling the whole story. He said fewer people got tested over the last few days, and that it’s possible those who did were symptomatic.
"We don't know, and we'll see what the numbers say over the next few days,” said Cuomo. “And that will explain if this is a circumstantial situation - post-Christmas, less people getting tested and they have a higher positivity because the people who are getting tested are symptomatic, or was there spread pre-Christmas that is actually being evidenced now.”
One number, though, that is not in dispute: coronavirus hospitalizations, which continue to tick up and are now at 7,559 statewide.
In the city, which uses a different formula to measure coronavirus cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the seven-day rate hit 7.24%, up from just over 7% on Sunday, well above the 5% threshold.
Today's #COVID19 indicators:— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) December 28, 2020
· 224 new hospitalizations
· 2,428 new cases
· 7.24% positivity rate (7-day avg.)
The end of this battle is in sight — we can't let up the fight now.
As the year comes to an end and vaccines become more available, the governor announced a pilot program between the Buffalo Bills and the New York State Department of Health that would help set guidelines for reopening large events in 2021.
The details of the plan have not yet been laid out, but attendees would have to test negative for COVID-19 before entering the stadium.
“We are trying to find a way to reopen businesses, and use our technology to reopen businesses. It is not going to be an option for us to keep the economy closed until the vaccine hits critical mass," said Cuomo.
The governor said the use of rapid tests could become part of the strategy for a broader reopening of the economy next year.