New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to make it a crime to sell or administer the Covid-19 vaccine to anyone trying to skip ahead in the line.
The governor said in a news conference Monday that any entity misrepresenting who they are or distributing the vaccine to those who aren’t yet eligible should lose their license and face criminal penalties.
Cuomo added that he plans to propose a bill criminalizing such activity when lawmakers convene for the 2021 legislative session January 6.
“This vaccine can be like gold to some people,” he said. “And if there’s any fraud in the distribution – you’re letting people get ahead of other people, or friends or family or they’re selling the vaccine – you’ll lose your license. But I do believe it should be criminal and I’m going to propose a law to that effect.”
Cuomo’s announcement comes just over a week after a New York-based health care provider was accused of fraudulently obtaining Covid-19 vaccines, transferring them to facilities in other parts of the state and distributing them to people in violation of state guidelines.
New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a December 26 statement that ParCare Community Health Network may have acted “contrary to the state’s plan to administer it first to frontline healthcare workers, as well as nursing home residents and staffers.” He added that the state health department would assist state police in launching a criminal investigation into the alleged fraud.
ParCare maintained in a statement that it is following state guidelines and said it would cooperate with the investigation.
Cuomo calls on hospitals to vaccinate more quickly
Cuomo also criticized the rate at which vaccines are being administered, urging leaders of hospital systems in the state to speed up the process.
On average, hospitals across New York state have administered about 46% of the vaccines they have received so far, according to the governor’s presentation.
Some health care centers, such as the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital system, have given out 99% of the vaccines they have received, while others lagged far behind at 15%, Cuomo said. And though he acknowledged that smaller hospitals were at an advantage, he said the issue was not solely one of size.
“This is a management issue of the hospitals,” he added. “They have to move the vaccine, and they have to move the vaccine faster.”
Cuomo pressured hospitals to move more quickly, saying the New York Department of Health had issued a letter to hospitals warning them that if they don’t use their allocated shots by the end of the week, they won’t receive any more and could face fines.
“We want to get through the health care workers, so we can get to the next tranche, which are the police and the bus drivers and the train operators and people with comorbidities and older people who are most vulnerable,” he said.
State is stepping in to help nursing homes
Vaccine administration in nursing homes, which has been run by the federal government, has also “not been going as quickly as we would like,” Cuomo said. As a result, New York state is stepping in to expedite the process by sending staff to administer the vaccine in long-term care facilities.
Of the 611 enrolled facilities statewide, approximately 288 of them have completed their first doses for residents. An additional 234 first doses will be administered to residents this week, Cuomo said, meaning that 85% of New York nursing home residents will soon have received their first shot of the vaccine.
The state will expedite the process for the remaining 15% of nursing home residents over the next two weeks, the governor added.
About 200,000 vaccines have been administered in New York state so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The state’s department of health reported that more than 274,000 doses have been administered as of Saturday afternoon.
Coronavirus cases in New York state are spiking again – a phenomenon that experts predicted would happen after the holidays.
Data from Monday indicates 170 more people have died of the virus, while 925 patients have been newly admitted to the hospital. The state also reports an 8.34% positivity rate.
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian and Ganesh Setty contributed to this report.