The New York State Department of Health is investigating whether an Amityville pediatric practice whose owner was convicted of falsifying COVID-19 vaccination records also faked certificates of immunization against diseases like the measles.
The Nassau and Suffolk health departments are advising — although not mandating — school districts require that any child with immunization records from the practice, Wild Child Pediatric Healthcare, obtain proof of vaccination from a different health care provider.
Both health departments referred questions about potential evidence that Wild Child falsified childhood immunization certificates to the state.
The state health department Friday declined to state what prompted its investigation into Wild Child and what evidence it has collected.
WHAT TO KNOW
The New York State Department of Health is investigating whether an Amityville pediatric practice whose owner was convicted of falsifying COVID-19 vaccination records also did so for certificates of immunization against diseases like the measles.
The Nassau and Suffolk health departments are advising school districts to require any child with vaccination records from Wild Child Pediatric Healthcare to obtain proof of vaccination from a different health care provider.
Wild Child and its owner, Julie DeVuono, falsified thousands of COVID-19 records, an attorney for DeVuono said. But he denied she fabricated non-COVID immunization certificates.
“This is the subject of an open investigation and therefore the Department cannot comment at this time,” health department spokeswoman Danielle DeSouza said in a statement.
The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office Wednesday said in an email that “there was no evidence that anyone received non-COVID fake immunization cards” from Wild Child.
But the office did not respond to questions as to whether it had investigated whether Wild Child and owner Julie DeVuono falsified records for childhood immunizations against the measles, mumps, hepatitis B, tetanus and other diseases.
Suffolk prosecutors say DeVuono, a nurse practitioner, charged up to $350 for each false entry on COVID-19 vaccination cards and earned more than $1.5 million between June 2021 and January 2022. She pleaded guilty in September to related charges.
Her Garden City attorney, Jason Russo, said thousands of people bought the fake cards. But he said that DeVuono, whose practice vaccinated between 500 and 1,000 children a year, never issued falsified cards for non-COVID vaccines.
Some districts have backed off recommendation
Some districts are following the health departments’ recommendations, while others have rescinded such policies after either threats of legal action or contact from parents, according to Long Island attorneys Chad LaVeglia and James Mermigis, who separately are representing several parents who are challenging their districts’ ability to require further proof of vaccination.
Both said the children of their clients in the Wild Child cases received their childhood immunizations and shouldn’t have to receive them again.
Mermigis said because there is no evidence that DeVuono falsified childhood immunization certificates, “I think there's a serious overreach here by the school districts and by the Suffolk and Nassau County departments of health for recommending this. To me, it's a civil rights issue.”
The county health departments in October advised districts to ask students with Wild Child immunization records to obtain blood tests that verify whether there are antibodies that were created by vaccinations against hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. For vaccines that cannot be detected with blood tests, the departments are recommending vaccination from another health care provider.
The state requires seven types of vaccines, depending on the age of the student.
Mermigis said he may sue the Rocky Point Union Free School District for following Suffolk’s guidelines. He said he is representing a family with two children in Rocky Point schools and talked with two other Rocky Point families with kids that have Wild Child vaccination certificates.
The district’s superintendent, Scott O’Brien, issued a statement to Newsday Thursday that Rocky Point “will adhere to the direction of the Department of Health in assuring that our students are immunized so that the safety of all can be safeguarded.”
The letter that Mermigis earlier sent to Rocky Point and two other districts warned that following the health department recommendations violated parents’ constitutional rights and that if his clients’ children were removed from school, he would take legal action.
Mermigis said Rocky Point’s attorney told him his client’s children “will be excluded from school” as of Dec. 15 if they don’t provide proof of vaccination from a provider other than Wild Child.
Rocky Point said in a statement Friday afternoon that it is allowing students to attend school past Dec. 15 as the district continues “to collaborate with the families impacted by Wild Child Pediatrics.”
LaVeglia said he represents parents from Smithtown, which he said is also following health department recommendations.
Smithtown Central School District Superintendent Mark Secaur said in a statement Friday: “The School District has this matter under review and has deferred any determination relating to exclusion at this time.”
Mermigis said two other districts he sent warning letters to, Island Park and Eastport-South Manor, “backed off” and revoked their policies.
Island Park, he said, sent him a letter “stating that since it was not a mandate, they will not enforce it.”
Mara Harvey, a partner in the Melville law firm Lamb & Barnosky, which represents school districts, said districts would be required to follow health department mandates but are not legally obligated to follow a recommendation.
Mermigis said he talked recently with parents from two other districts, Merrick and Miller Place, that he said instituted the departments’ guidelines. The parents are trying to convince the districts to revoke their policies without legal action, he said.
Officials from the Merrick, Miller Place, Island Park and Eastport-South Manor school districts did not immediately respond to queries late Friday afternoon.
Mermigis said he did not know why parents who live far from Wild Child traveled to Amityville for vaccinations.
The county health departments Friday said in statements that they did not know how many districts have children with vaccination certificates from Wild Child.
DeVuono and her corporation, Kids-On-Call Pediatric Nurse Practitioner P.C., pleaded guilty in September to two felony money laundering and forgery charges in connection with the scheme, and to another felony charge for illegally obtaining oxycodone prescriptions for herself.
She agreed to surrender her nursing licenses, close her practice and forfeit more than $1.25 million. Her sentencing, which is expected to include 5 years probation and 840 hours of community service, is scheduled for Jan. 8 in Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead.