New York Investigating Whether Health Care Network 'Fraudulently' Distributed COVID-19 Vaccine

New York Investigating Whether Health Care Network 'Fraudulently' Distributed COVID-19 Vaccine
A bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is seen during a press conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Dec. 23, 2020. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

New York state health officials are investigating whether a Brooklyn-based health network has "fraudulently" obtained and distributed Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.

Investigators are looking into reports that ParCare Community Health Network, which runs facilities in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Orange County, "may have fraudulently obtained [the] COVID-19 vaccine [and] transferred it to facilities in other parts of the state" that then administered it to members of the public, New York State Health Department (DOH) Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement released on Dec. 26.

The alleged diversion circumvents the state's plan to vaccinate frontline health care workers and nursing home residents and staffers before anyone else, Zucker said.

"We take this very seriously and DOH will be assisting State Police in a criminal investigation into this matter," Zucker said. "Anyone found to have knowingly participated in this scheme will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

The investigation began after BoroPark 24, a hyperlocal news site, reported that ParCare was offering hundreds of COVID-19 vaccines to "anyone who is a health care worker, older than the age of 60, or who has underlying medical conditions" in Brooklyn.

Gary Schlesinger, the CEO and president of ParCare, told BoroPark 24 that its five Brooklyn offices have 2,800 COVID-19 vaccines available, and there will be more vaccines arriving every day. Residents living near any of those offices could sign up for the vaccines at ParCare's website.

"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," Schlesinger said. "We will not give the vaccine to people who are not eligible for this first batch of the shots."

ParCare released a statement late on Dec. 26, saying the health network will continue to operate while cooperating with the state investigation.

"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 frontline health care workers and first responders," ParCare's statement reads.

"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."