New York authorities are investigating whether a local medical provider illegally obtained and distributed doses of the new coronavirus vaccine, the state's health commissioner announced over the weekend.
ParCare Community Health Network, a medical provider that operates six locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Orange County, has been accused of fraudulently obtaining doses of Moderna's vaccine before bypassing frontline health care workers and elderly people in administering doses to members of the public.
"The State Department of Health has been made aware of reports that Parcare Community Health Network, an Orange County provider, 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 -- contrary to the state's plan to administer it first to frontline healthcare workers, as well as nursing home residents and staffers," New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement issued on Saturday.
"We take this very seriously and DOH will be assisting State Police in a criminal investigation into this matter. Anyone found to have knowingly participated in this scheme will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," he added.
State guidelines mandate that the first round of vaccines go to frontline health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, but according to WLNY-TV, a post on ParCare Community's Facebook page offered vaccinations "on a first-come, first-serve basis."
In response, ParCare said it is complying with the probe and has "proactively returned" its remaining stockpile of vaccine doses until the investigation is concluded.
"[ParCare has] provided the documentation regarding the proper receipt of the vaccines to the NYS DOH," the company said in a statement. "In an effort to fully cooperate with NYS DOH, ParCare has proactively returned its vaccines pending the Department's review."
The company insisted, however, that no wrongdoing took place.
"We are confident the end result of that review will show that ParCare at all times exerted best efforts to comply with all NYS DOH requirements and will allow us to continue to achieve our number one goal of providing these critical vaccines to the New Yorkers who need them most," the statement said.
"We will do everything in our power to make sure that the state understands that our patients are our priority and that everyone receives their second dose accordingly," it added.
On Monday, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced increased penalties on health care providers that intentionally disregard vaccine distribution protocols of up to $1 million fines and the revocation of all state licenses.
As of the same day, approximately 140,000 New York residents had received a vaccine.