Black market vaccine prosecutions are already a thing

Well, perhaps not “prosecutions” technically, but certainly investigations that might lead in that direction. The New York Post recently began looking into ParCare, a healthcare company with clinics in several New York City neighborhoods. They had been promoting the availability of the new Moderna COVID vaccine at their clinics and inviting people to sign up to get one. The problem was that ParCare wasn’t on the list of caregivers slated to receive the vaccines and they didn’t seem to be following the guidelines for who was to receive the vaccinations first. The media is describing these proceedings as a “criminal investigation” at this point, but that may prove to be rather complicated if things move toward an actual prosecution.

A health-care network with clinics in Boro Park, Bensonhurst and Williamsburg is under a criminal investigation for giving unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines, officials said Saturday.

ParCare Community Health Network “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,” state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a news release.

The statement came hours after The Post questioned a state health department spokesman about ParCare giving the coveted inoculations.

ParCare obviously wasn’t trying to hide the fact that they had the vaccine and were making it available. In fact, they were broadcasting the news on Twitter.

The two questions currently being asked (without much in the way of definitive answers) are how ParCare got their hands on the vaccine doses and who they were allowing to receive them. As to the first issue, there doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that the vaccines were stolen or somehow bootlegged. Is it really such a stretch of the imagination to think that ParCare simply submitted an order to Moderna and the company processed the order? Everyone is trying to move at “warp speed” to get these doses out all over the country. It doesn’t seem unlikely that Moderna would have seen an order from a known healthcare network and simply assumed that they were eligible to begin inoculating people.

I’m having trouble seeing how that could be framed as some sort of crime in a court of law unless it can be shown that ParCare knew they were ineligible and engaged in some sort of fraud by placing the order. But even then, can Moderna refuse a valid order from a licensed healthcare network? And if so, under what law would this be covered?

Then there’s the question of violating the rules about who was to receive the vaccinations first. They were all supposed to be going to frontline healthcare workers and/or people in nursing homes. But when ParCare was promoting their ability to vaccinate people on social media, they said applicants would need to be “a healthcare worker, are over 60, or have underlying conditions.” Adding in eligibility for everyone over 60 and with unspecified “underlying conditions” obviously goes far beyond the state guidelines.

But yet again, has ParCare broken any laws? As far as I can tell, the New York State legislature never passed a law about vaccine distribution orders and even the Governor’s executive orders are rather vague on the subject. All everyone seems to be going by are the guidelines handed down from the CDC and the state Health Department. Can someone be prosecuted for not following a “guideline?”

The other point of contention is that the vaccine is supposed to be “free” for everyone. (Well, Congress just loaded up more taxpayer dollars to pay for the doses, so you’re paying for it anyway, but you know how the swamp-dwellers love to talk about “free” stuff.) But ParCare was asking patients for their insurance information, suggesting that they would be billing people and/or their insurance companies for the injections. They clearly seem to be coloring outside the lines in terms of stated government policy on that point, but the same question remains. Just because Congress appropriated money to cover the cost of the vaccines, was there any law passed making it illegal for healthcare clinics to charge patients anyway? Not that I can tell. So if you’re the prosecutor in this case, what are you going to charge ParCare with and what penalty will they face if they are found guilty?

It seems to me that there is no basis in law to go after them. It feels as if the government (at both the state and federal levels) and the pharmaceutical industry just made some pronouncements about the best way to handle this and they simply expected everyone to go along with the plan. ParCare either didn’t understand the plan or flaunted it. But that’s not the same as violating the law. It’s sounding like we’re facing yet another situation where executive power during a declared state of emergency is potentially being expanded far too broadly and in a rushed fashion.