Last week, after reports had already circulated that millions of COVID-19 vaccines were lying around unused while Americans desperately waited to be vaccinated, Democratic governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California threatened providers with massive fines and/or losing their licenses if they dispensed the vaccines in any way differing from the hierarchy their states had laid out.
On December 23, Reuters reported, “Millions of COVID-19 vaccines are sitting unused in U.S. hospitals and elsewhere a week into the massive inoculation campaign, putting the government’s target for 20 million vaccinations this month in doubt. As of Wednesday morning, only 1 million shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine had been given, about one-third of the first shipment sent last week.”
On December 28, Cuomo stated at a press conference:
I’m going to sign an executive order that says, we’re very clear. The vaccines are a priority. There’s not going to be any politics at play as to who gets a vaccine and we looked at the CDC, federal government for guidance, and we will not tolerate any fraud in the vaccination process. Anyone who engages in fraud is going to be held accountable. The executive order I’m going to sign today says a provider could be fined up to a million dollars and revocation of all state licenses, which frankly may be more of a deterrent than the $1 million. And that will apply to a provider, a doctor, a nurse, a pharmacist, any licensed healthcare professional.
“So if you engage in fraud on this vaccine, we will remove your license to practice in the state of New York,” Cuomo continued. “So we are very serious about this and this is the type of fraud that will be uncovered. On the old adage that people talk, people talk, and somebody gets a vaccine and he goes out and tells his buddy, I got a vaccine. How did you get a vaccine? You’re not ready. You’re not on the priority list. Well, you can go to this place. I was the attorney general for four years, people talk. We will find out and it’s not worth risking your license, as well as a possible civil and criminal penalty.”
The very same day, Newsom intoned, “I just want to make this crystal clear. If you skip the line or you intend to skip the line, you will be sanctioned, you will lose your license. You will not only lose your license. We will be very aggressive in terms of highlighting the reputational impacts as well. We are going to be aggressive here, but you are not wrong in the way you framed your question.
He added, “And so I’m not naive to the prospects that there are going to be some issues, and we’re going to have to work not just as a state, but with our county partners to monitor that behavior at the local level, even at the clinic level, and to make sure that someone’s not passing a few vials over to their cousin or aunt or uncle, or God forbid, making a buck or two on the backs of a vaccine that should be distributed to someone who is at high risk or at higher need.”
“And so we are looking forward to putting out details of what that enforcement package looks like, but I can assure you over the course of the last number of weeks, we’ve been working aggressively behind the scenes with a lot of our partners, as I say, including the California Medical Association, that is very, very desirous of making sure that their profession is not impacted by bad behavior and wants to encourage and process good behavior,” Newsom concluded.