Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York State, speaks at a press conference in New York City on September 8, 2020.
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The New York attorney general is investigating whether a health clinic in the state has fraudulently received Covid vaccine doses and distributed them to the public, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.
Cuomo declined to provide details of the investigation as it is ongoing. However, he noted that it is the ParCare Community Health Network, which the state has identified as a health care provider in Orange County, New York. ParCare allegedly misrepresented itself to the state health department in order to receive vaccine doses, Cuomo said.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement released over the weekend that the clinic may have “diverted” it [the vaccine] to the public – contrary to the state’s plan to administer it first to frontline healthcare workers and residents and nursing home workers. “
Because vaccine doses are so scarce, states are rationing vials to specific priority groups before making them more widely available.
ParCare said Monday in a statement to CNBC that it would “actively work with the investigation”. A representative from the clinic added that “Cuomo himself emphasized the importance of getting all the facts and that making the facts available to the state is exactly what we have done and will continue to do.”
It is among the earliest cases of suspected fraud in the US related to Covid vaccines, but it is unlikely to be the last, Cuomo said, adding that fraud involving a valuable commodity is “almost an inevitable function of human nature ” be.
“We want to send a clear signal to the providers that we will find out and will be prosecuted if you break the law on these vaccinations,” Cuomo said at a press conference on Monday. “You will see more and more of it. The vaccine is a precious commodity and you have a lot of people who want the vaccine.”
New York State Police have conducted a criminal investigation, Cuomo noted, and will refer the case to New York AG Letitia James, whose office has not returned CNBC’s request for comment.
To send a clear signal to potential vaccine mockers, Cuomo said he would sign an executive order on Monday setting out the consequences of defrauding the state in the distribution of vaccines. He said the state could fine violators up to $ 1 million and revoke the health care provider’s license to practice in New York.
“We mean this very seriously,” he said. “We’ll find out and it’s not worth risking your license and any possible civil and criminal penalties.”
Cuomo described the penalties as “the strictest in the nation,” adding that New York is taking a “hyper-cautious, hyper-vigilant” approach.
“We put the penalties in place. We put the security in place, but when you deal with thousands of people, hundreds of organizations, and one valuable asset, expect some level of fraud,” Cuomo said. “As surely as night follows day, you will have people cheating on the government.”
“I understand the value of a vial,” he added. “Some of these vials can make 10 vaccines. You could sell that one vial, so I understand the temptation.”