ALBANY — State doctors, nurses and health care providers could be stripped of their medical licenses and face fines of up to $1 million, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared in an executive order Monday, after a downstate provider faces criminal charges for potentially fraudulently obtaining and administering the COVID-19 vaccine to New Yorkers.
New York State Police, together with the state Health Department and Attorney General Letitia James, continue to investigate reports that Parcare Community Health Network, in Orange County, improperly obtained, transferred and distributed the vaccine to 869 New Yorkers in the general public.
Cuomo declared an executive order threatening to revoke all state licenses for health care providers that fraudulently administer a coronavirus vaccine, increasing criminal penalties up to $1 million.
“People talk, you won’t get away with it and it’s not worth the risk,” Cuomo said Monday during a coronavirus briefing in the state Capitol. “We will not tolerate any fraud in the vaccination process. We want to send a clear signal to the providers that if you violate the law on these vaccinations, we will find out and you will be prosecuted.”
Providers will be required to certify a patient’s eligibility to receive a COVID-19 vaccine under the order to ensure medical personnel prioritize eligible patients within the state Health Department’s specific prioritization guidelines.
Health care professionals, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists, stand to have their state licenses revoked if caught violating the order.
“We are very serious about this,” Cuomo warned. “This is the type of fraud that will be uncovered on the old adage that people talk. People talk. We will find out. It’s not worth risking your license as well as a possible civil and criminal penalty.”
The responsible health organization, individual employees and patients who knowingly received a fraudulent vaccine could each face charges.
“The vaccine is a valuable commodity; vaccines are valuable and there will be people who break the law,” Cuomo said. “You have many people who want the vaccine and you’ll have fraud in the vaccine process. It’s almost an inevitable function of human nature and of the marketplace.”
Parcare is the only health provider in the state under investigation for deceitful vaccine distribution.
“That is the only case that we’re at liberty to speak about now,” the governor said. “You’re going to have doctors and nurses and pharmacists and health aides who have access to thousands and thousands of files of this vaccine,” Cuomo said. “You should expect the old colloquial expression they’re going to develop legs and walk away in the dark of night. And that’s the situation we’re dealing with, so we are hypercautious, hypervigilant and we are putting in the strictest penalties in the country the best we can determine.”
DOH, the attorney general and state inspector general continuously monitor the vaccine distribution system and health organizations.
Cuomo declined to release other details, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.
“It’s going to be a question of the facts, and I don’t know any facts at this time that I would convey that wouldn’t compromise the investigation,” he said.
The state distributes the vaccine to hundreds of providers statewide.
Facilities are provided the vaccine after submitting a form to the state Health Department claiming to be a qualified health center.
Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker denied Parcare’s claim to be a qualified facility to vaccinate New Yorkers.
“That’s strike one,” he said. “They moved it from one area to another area, which is inappropriate, which is strike two, and they gave it to people not on the priority list. “...Three strikes and they’re out.”
Falsifying business records is a crime with penalties up to one year in prison, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa added.
The Health Department will work to make sure the 869 New Yorkers receive the second necessary dose to be vaccinated against the disease.
“There are two sides to the investigation, including the public health side, and we will always do what’s best for public health,” Zucker said.
The state’s supply of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are first prioritized for high-risk health care workers, first responders and other frontline medical staff, following federal guidelines set by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 140,000 New Yorkers have received one of two required injections of the COVID-19 vaccine to date, or the greatest number of vaccinated residents in a U.S. state to date.
New York is expected to receive 259,000 more vaccine dosages this week, with 139,400 from Pfizer and about 119,000 of Moderna’s immunization.
By the end of the week, 53,200 more doses will be allocated to approved Capital Region health facilities, with 59,800 being sent to the Finger Lakes, 64,500 in Western New York and 21,850 to the North Country.
“We’re shipping as we speak,” Cuomo said. “They will not have been necessarily administered, but they will have been delivered.”
New York City is slated to receive 368,650 dosages and 126,600 to Long Island. Doses are allocated to states based on population and the number of frontline health workers.
The state will expand vaccine eligibility to urgent care center employees, health workers administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff and residents of state Office of Addiction Services and Supports facilities this week.
“We have a whole group of people interfacing with the vaccines and we want to make sure they get the vaccine,” Cuomo said.
Vaccines will continue for high-risk hospital workers, federally qualified health center employees, EMTs, coroners, medical examiners, certain funeral workers and state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities facility and staff.
Officials attribute a statewide jump in COVID-19 positivity to 7.83% Monday, up from a seven-day average of 5.9% positive Saturday and much of last week, to a reduced number of daily diagnostic tests.
Other states saw a significant uptick in virus cases over the Christmas and Kwanzaa holiday weekend.
“For it to go up in two days is dramatic and very, very fast, so we’re studying what the uptick in the number actually means,” Cuomo said. “New York from 5.8% to 8... is that even possible? It’s statistically improbable.”
The state conducted 124,866 COVID-19 tests Sunday, but has typically conducted upward of 200,000 tests in a 24-hour period, skewing the percentage of new virus cases higher.
The state reported 114 New Yorkers died from the novel coronavirus Sunday, slightly reduced, but about flat over the last several days.
Statewide hospitalizations increased 376 patients to 7,559 people.
“There is nothing preordained here — we control our destiny,” Cuomo reminded New Yorkers. “What will happen will be a consequence of our actions. In a year where we felt out of control, we’re actually in ultimate control [of virus spread].”