NEW YORK — A Jewish community advocate is defending his decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine last week from a New York health care provider that is now under investigation by state authorities for allegedly administering vaccinations to those who are not yet eligible.
Mark Meyer Appel told PIX11 News on Sunday he didn’t do anything wrong by getting an early dose of the Moderna vaccine.
“For weeks, it’s been circulating around different What’s App groups that the vaccine will be available at ParCare,” Appel said.
Appel received the shot Wednesday at the ParCare Community Health Network location on Park Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
“I just walked in. I filled out the application,” he said.
Appel runs a group called The Bridge Multicultural and Advocacy Project. He also knows Gary Schlesinger, the politically-connected director of ParCare Community Health Network, which received 3,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine last week at its clinic in Kiryas Joel, a Satmar Hasidic enclave in Monroe, New York.
ParCare is now under criminal investigation by New York State Police amid reports the health network sent the vaccines to various clinics in New York City and made them available to members of the public, ignoring state guidelines that mandate hospital doctors and nurses, along with nursing home residents, get the vaccine first.
“I don’t see any information where the state has mandated that only doctors and nurses get the vaccine,” Appel told PIX11. “If anyone was called a first responder, I think I definitely fall into that category. I did a mask distribution with the district attorney of Brooklyn. I’ve organized so many food pantries.”
Appel also defended Schlesinger.
“The background of Gary himself, I knew he wouldn’t jeopardize his operation by providing an illegally-obtained medicine,” he said.
However, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said Saturday that the health care provider is under investigation over concerns it “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 front-line health care workers, as well as nursing home residents and staffers.”
Zucker said the state Health Department is taking the allegations “very seriously” and is assisting State Police in a criminal investigation.
Using a crisis management public relations firm, ParCare put out a statement Saturday night and then sent a copy of a “packing slip” indicating it had received the vaccines through the New York State Department of Health.
The Satmar Hasidic community has come under scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic for not wearing masks and ignoring social distancing rules.
The Park Avenue ParCare clinic had a sign pinned up Sunday afternoon announcing, “No Vaccines,” and the company released another statement saying it sent back unused doses to the state.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed an executive order imposing penalties on those who engage in fraud related to the COVID-19 vaccine. New York health care providers and workers who commit COVID-19 vaccine fraud will face a fine of up to $1 million and revocation of all state licenses, the governor said.
As for Mark Appel, who is 68 and diabetic, he’s hoping the vaccine investigation will not prevent him from getting his final dose.
“I took the Moderna vaccine,” Appel said, “so I have to come back in 28 days. So I hope I get the second shot.”