ALBANY, N.Y. — New York health care providers and workers who commit COVID-19 vaccine fraud will face a fine of up to $1 million and revocation of all state licenses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. The announcement comes after a health care company was accused of fraudulently obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine and administering it to members of the public.
ParCare is being investigated by the New York Attorney General's Office, Cuomo said. They allegedly misrepresented the business to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine then moving doses around the state and administering them to people who are not yet eligible to receive them, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said.
Zucker said he has received reports that ParCare may have violated state guidelines by moving the vaccine to other parts of New York and administering it to people who are not part of the first phase of distribution, which only includes health care workers as well as nursing home residents and staff members.
BoroPark24 reported that ParCare received 3,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 21. The company's CEO, Gary Schlesinger, suggested in the report that anyone over 60 or with underlying health conditions could sign up online to receive a vaccine through ParCare.
“You have to be on that list,” Schlesinger told BoroPark24. “Once you are on the list, we have to vet to make sure that you are either a health care worker, are over 60, or have underlying conditions.”
BREAKING: @ParCare Community Health Network has been authorized to distribute the #CovidVaccine for people who fall under certain criteria’s, you must register at https://t.co/fyIcQrI2If or scan the QR code below pic.twitter.com/qR7yvQvqNg— ParCare Medical Cntr (@ParCare) December 16, 2020
Schlesinger also retweeted photos of himself receiving the vaccine on Dec. 22. The tweet has since been deleted, but another tweet from ParCare that was retweeted by Schlesinger displays a flier promoting vaccines "only for people in the following categories: elderly, high risk, underlying conditions."
In a statement released Saturday night, a spokesperson for ParCare said the health care provider only administered the vaccine to those eligible under state guidelines.
"During these unprecedented times, we have striven to provide critical health care services and administer COVID-19 vaccinations to those qualified to receive them under the New York State Department of Health's guidelines, which includes front-line health care workers and first responders. ParCare Community Health Network has a long history of partnering with the City of New York to provide vital health care services to New Yorkers who need them most - including providing COVID-19 testing - especially for New Yorkers in medically underserved communities who've been hardest hit by COVID-19. As we actively cooperate with the New York State Department of Health on this matter, we will continue to perform top-quality health care services to help New York come out of this pandemic,” the spokesperson said.
ParCare's website describes the company as "a multi-specialty center providing such services as primary care, internal medicine, dermatology, physical therapy, and pediatrics; helping our patients to maintain optimal health and prevent potential diseases."
The governor said he will sign an executive order ensuring the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is done properly.
“We will not tolerate any fraud in the vaccination process,” Cuomo said. “Anyone who engages in fraud is going to be held accountable.”
The penalties will apply to health care providers as well as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and any other licensed health care professional who commits fraud, the governor said.
“So, if you engage in fraud on this vaccine, we will remove your license to practice in the state of New York,” he added.
Lauren Cook and Magee Hickey contributed to this report on PIX11.com.