Exclusive: Whistleblower Alleges Company Diluted COVID Vaccine Doses In New York City

A lawsuit was filed against a company that runs several vaccination sites in New York City by an employee who was fired. CBS2's Alice Gainer reports.

Video Transcript

KRISTINE JOHNSON: And now to a CBS2 exclusive. A whistleblower accuses a company in our area of administering diluted doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Welcome back. I'm Kristine John.

MAURICE DUBOIS: I'm Maurice DuBois. A lawsuit's been filed against a healthcare company that runs several vaccination sites in the city by an employee who was fired. It alleges that vaccinators at one location were told to over dilute vaccines.

KRISTINE JOHNSON: If true, what does that mean for people who got vaccinated there? CBS2's Alice Gainer looked into this and has this exclusive story.

ANDREW PALAZZO: 16,000.

ALICE GAINER: That's how many Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses Andrew Palazzo alleges could have been over diluted and administered at Korean Community Services Vaccination Site in Bayside Queens.

ANDREW PALAZZO: When I was the lead vaccinator, I was instructed to have everybody do the over diluting.

ALICE GAINER: This is direct from the CEO.

ANDREW PALAZZO: Correct. I assumed he was the higher medical authority. I thought it was OK.

ALICE GAINER: Palazzo, who was fired, filed a lawsuit against his employer, Centers Urgent Care based in Little Village, alleging that while he worked at the KCS site from the end of March until May, CEO Scott Orlanski told him to utilize between 1.9 milliliters and 2.0 milliliters of dilutant per vial to obtain at least seven doses per vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

According to CDC guidelines, 1.8 milliliters is to be used. The FDA says, do not add more than 1.8 milliliters of diluent. According to Pfizer, after dilution COVID-19 vaccine vials contain five to six doses. Back in December, the FDA acknowledged some vials had extra product, tweeting, "FDA is advising that it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable, the sixth or possibly even a seventh from each vial."

CBS2 spoke to several former and current employees. This current vaccinator wanted their identity hidden out of fear.

- They heavily pressured the vaccinators to give seven doses.

ALICE GAINER: Encrypted WhatsApp messages between management were shown to us, as well as text messages sent between vaccinators that show a concern about what was going on. Some went to management.

- We said that either they had to stop doing it, they had to correct what the management had been telling people, or we would leave. So a group was going to quit. They agreed that they weren't going to be doing this going forward. So they said there had been a miscommunication.

ALICE GAINER: We went to the KCS site to talk to the manager and director. So you're saying it's not true, then? The doses were not--

JOSEF SCHENKER: We never advised anybody to overdilute anything.

ALICE GAINER: They're saying there was overdilution going on. You're saying you know nothing about that.

JOSEF SCHENKER: At no time was anybody instructed to draw up more diluent than 1.8 mls--

ALICE GAINER: Dr. Josef Schenker is the owner and medical director of Centers Urgent Care.

JOSEF SCHENKER: If you're very careful and you're very precise with your measurements, you can get a seventh dose.

ALICE GAINER: [INAUDIBLE] push for this seventh dose, these extra doses, there's no vaccine shortage.

JOSEF SCHENKER: It's just a cushion. if accidentally there spillage, if there's a loss of once it's drawn off, if you accidentally a syringe falls and it has to be discarded, nothing is used that falls.

ALICE GAINER: Dr. Purvi Parikh is an immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Network and a researcher on the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.

PURVI PARIKH: If a vaccine is overdiluted, it can lose its efficacy and its potency.

ALICE GAINER: I asked her what could happen if you were to add 1.9 milliliters instead of 1.8.

PURVI PARIKH: We frankly don't know because it hasn't been studied if it was diluted slightly a little bit more or not. But just from a medical standpoint, likely in that small amount, it won't make a huge difference.

ALICE GAINER: Now Centers Urgent Care says it won't comment on Palazzo's termination while there's an active investigation. Palazzo's lawsuit states he wants the site shut down and money for wages lost. The New York City Health Department says senior city staff carried out an unannounced site visit, checked the vaccine, interviewed staff, and observed and say to date, no major issues have been identified. Maurice, Kristine?

MAURICE DUBOIS: OK, Alice. Thank you.

KRISTINE JOHNSON: Thank you, Alice.