A Herricks science teacher pleaded not guilty to a felony Friday after her arrest for allegedly injecting a 17-year-old friend of her son with what authorities believe was a coronavirus vaccine.
Laura Parker Russo, 54, of Sea Cliff, told police the substance was a Johnson & Johnson vaccine she got from a pharmacy, according to a felony complaint. The court document also says she provided a "written statement of admission" to a detective.
Russo faces a maximum of 1-1/3 to 4 years in prison if convicted of the felony charge of unauthorized practice of profession.
Police arrested the Herricks High School biology teacher on Jan. 1 after she allegedly gave the teenager the injection in her home at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 31 while not having any credential as a health professional and without the permission of the boy's parents.
The teenager, who had a headache and didn't feel well after the injection, told his mother about the shot and she called police, according to authorities.
Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly said after Russo's arraignment in Hempstead District Court that the investigation into how and where Russo obtained a vial containing the purported vaccine is continuing. She said part of the evidence against Russo includes a video of the incident that authorities found on TikTok.
"It was almost treated as if they were doing something funny and it's not funny when you're breaking the law, injecting children," Donnelly said Friday.
The district attorney said she had concerns there would be copycat incidents, where other unqualified people would try the same thing while recording videos. She added that the government had spent billions of dollars to make vaccines readily available.
"Get vaccinated the right way. This was not the right way," Donnelly said. " … Medical professionals are issued a license because they get the training in order to administer these vaccines. No one should take it upon themselves and think 'I know enough to do this.'"
The district attorney said authorities hadn't found any evidence Russo had given an injection to anyone else.
Judge Lisa Petrocelli signed an order during Russo's arraignment telling her to refrain from harassing the alleged victim. Prosecutor Danielle Silas, who requested the order, also said during the proceeding that the defendant made a statement to authorities in which she said she had experience using needles.
Russo's attorney, Michael DerGarabedian, said after her arraignment that relatives who live with her suffer from diabetes and she's constantly administering medicine. He said Russo is a Cornell University graduate, has been a teacher for 35 years and has no criminal record. He declined to comment when asked where his client got the substance.
"There's no criminal motive in this case. She wasn't making money. She wasn't committing a heinous crime. It was only good that she wanted to come out of this thing. And at this time, until I see their evidence, I can't comment anymore," DerGarabedian added.
The defendant left court without commenting as news photographers followed her and her husband out of the building.
"Leave us alone!" he shouted at one point.
Russo has been "removed from the classroom and reassigned," the Herricks public schools superintendent said in a statement earlier this month.