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Drug firm honcho given special access to state-run COVID-19 tests: report

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A powerful drug company honcho with ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo was given special access to state-run COVID-19 tests during the onset of the coronavirus crisis last spring — when the swabs were nearly impossible to find, according to a report Thursday.

George Yancopoulos, president of the pharmaceutical firm Regeneron, was brought the tests by state officials after a “member of his household became infected with COVID-19,” according to the New York Times, which cited a company spokeswoman.

The tests were conducted at the home of Yancopoulos  — who has a history of investments backed by Cuomo and his family —  last March amid a statewide shutdown and panic over the then-widely-unknown virus, according to the paper.

In other cases, influential people were rushed by state troopers to the Wadsworth Center, a state-run lab in Albany, where workers were instructed to process the tests immediately, sources told the paper.

Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at his offices in NYC.
Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at his offices in NYC.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The preferential testing treatment was also allegedly extended to Cuomo’s family members, including his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, his mom, Matilda Cuomo, and at least one of his sisters, it was revealed on Wednesday.

Investigators in the New York State Assembly on Thursday said they are looking into who got special access to state-run coronavirus tests early in the pandemic, the paper reported.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine, chair of the judiciary committee, said lawmakers would probe the matter as part of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and hidden nursing home death data against Cuomo and his administration.

“Everything brought to the committee’s attention is going to be considered and investigated,” Lavine told the Times. “I will only say inquiries have been made. We’re paying attention to it and will act accordingly.”

The improper use of a government role in order for an official get “privileges or exemptions” for themselves or others is illegal under state law, the paper reported.

In April, Regeneron created 500,000 testing kits and provided them to the Empire State at no cost. It later played a key role in efforts to lower the risk of hospitalization and death among high-risk coronavirus patients.

Ties between the Cuomo family and the firm have run deep for decades. Mario Cuomo, the governor’s father, invested $250,000 in Regeneron in 1991 when he was governor to support the firm. 

In 2018, the current administration granted the firm up to $140 million in incentives to expand its operations in the Albany area, the paper reported.

A spokeswoman for the company said they requested the tests and that Yancopoulos was not involved in requesting them.

“Dr. Yancopoulos has directly led the company’s ambitious and successful efforts to advance a groundbreaking therapy for this devastating pandemic,” said the company spokeswoman, Hala Mirza.

“As an essential worker, leading and meeting regularly with his research team, and to ensure Dr. Yancopoulos was not posing a risk to this team, Regeneron requested testing from the state for his household after a household member became infected with Covid-19,” Mirza added.

A spokesman for Cuomo called the preferential treatment allegations “insincere, hypocritical efforts to rewrite the past.”

“In the early days of this pandemic, when there was a heavy emphasis on contact tracing, we were absolutely going above and beyond to get people tested,” Richard Azzopardi said. 

George Yancopoulos, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Co-Founder, President and Chief Scientific Officer, poses for a photograph on the company's Westchester campus in Tarrytown, New York.
According to the report, Yancopoulos had the COVID tests brought to his home.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The effort included “in some instances going to people’s homes” to identify cases and prevent others from falling ill, he said.

He added, “Among those we assisted were members of the general public, Democratic and Republican legislators, and reporters — including local and national reporters — state workers and their families, and those believed would be in direct contact with the governor.”

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NYPD releases video of gunman firing into group in the Bronx

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New video tweeted by the NYPD Sunday shows a gunman wildly firing down a Bronx street into a group of people in Fordham Manor, leaving two men wounded, cops said.

“WANTED for ASSAULT: Do you know this guy?” the NYPD wrote on Twitter.

“On 6/25/21 at approx 11:10 PM, in front of 2710 Morris Ave in the Bronx, the suspect fired several rounds towards a group, striking a 26-year-old male and a 20-year-old. Any info? DM @NYPDTips, or anonymously call them at 800-577-TIPS.”

The suspect who shot at a group of people in the Bronx on June 25, 2021.
The suspect who shot at a group of people in the Bronx on June 25, 2021.
NYPD
The suspect firing the gun in the Bronx.
The suspect firing the gun in the Bronx.
NYPD
The shooting left two people injured, according to the NYPD.
The shooting left two people injured, according to the NYPD.
NYPD

The 26-year-old was shot in the buttocks and the 20-year-old was shot in the leg, police said. Both were expected to survive.

The victims said they were standing with a group of friends when the “guy just came up and started shooting,” a police spokesman said.

No words were exchanged, video shows. 

There were no immediate arrests.

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FDA finds peeling paint, debris at US plant making J&J’s COVID vaccine

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A US plant that was making Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine must fix a long list of problems including peeling paint and unsanitary conditions and practices to resume operation, according to a highly critical report by the Food and Drug Administration.

Experts said addressing the issues raised in the scathing FDA inspection report could take months.

Neither J&J nor the FDA has said when they expect vaccine production to restart at the Baltimore plant owned by Emergent Biosolutions. Only two other plants are currently equipped to supply the world with the key drug substance for J&J’s vaccine.

“It may take many months to make these changes,” said Prashant Yadav, a global health care supply chain expert at the Center for Global Development. He described some of the issues raised by the FDA as “quite significant.”

No vaccine manufactured at the Emergent plant has been distributed for use in the United States. However, J&J said it will exercise its oversight authority to ensure that all of the FDA observations are addressed promptly and comprehensively.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was put on a pause in the US over a potential link to a blood clotting condition.
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The health care conglomerate has drawn scrutiny for months over its halting process to scale up production of a vaccine that is easier to handle and, by virtue of being a single shot, easier to use than other authorized vaccines.

Its use in the United States has been paused since last week as health officials study a possible link to a very rare but serious blood clot condition.

Emergent has been seeking regulatory authorization to make the J&J vaccine in the United States. It stopped production at the plant recently, saying the FDA had asked it to do so after an inspection.

J&J’s plant in Leiden, the Netherlands, is still producing doses for the world. It has another facility in India, which is currently curtailing exports of the shot as it struggles to vaccinate its own population.

Johnson & Johnson reiterated on Wednesday that it was working to establish a global supply chain in which 10 manufacturing sites would be involved in the production of its COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to the Leiden plant.

The company has a US government-brokered agreement with rival drugmaker Merck, which is preparing to make doses of J&J’s vaccine.

Failure to train personnel

The FDA in its final 12-page inspection report said it had reviewed security camera footage in addition to an in-person site visit to the Emergent plant.

It found a failure to train personnel to avoid cross-contamination of COVID-19 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which had also been produced at the site. The agency also cited staff carrying unsealed bags of medical waste in the facility, bringing it in contact with containers of material used in manufacturing.

The FDA reviewed security camera footage and visited the Emergent BioSolutions plant in Baltimore.
Getty Images

Earlier this week, the House launched an investigation into whether Emergent used its relationship with a Trump administration official to get a vaccine manufacturing contract despite a record of not delivering on contracts.

Emergent said in a statement that it is working with the FDA and J&J to quickly resolve the issues outlined in the report.

Production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet authorized for use in the United States, was previously stopped at the Emergent plant after ingredients from that shot contaminated a batch of J&J vaccine, ruining millions of doses.

The FDA also noted that Emergent did not produce adequate reports showing that the vaccines it was producing met quality standards.

The inspection, carried out between April 12 and April 20, also found the building not of suitable size or design to facilitate cleaning, maintenance or proper operations.

J&J said it was redoubling its efforts to get authorization for the facility as quickly as possible.

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One dead after pair of fires breaks out in Manhattan

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One person was killed and several others were injured in a pair of Manhattan fires Wednesday morning, officials said.

The first blaze erupted in Midtown around 8:15 a.m. inside a DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse at 213 W. 34th St., where an escalator became fully engulfed in flames — sending smoke billowing into the first and second floor and the interconnected 40-story hotel building, fire officials said.

It was not immediately clear which hotel it was.

Five firefighters suffered minor injuries putting out the blaze.

“The fire went out, but we have a smoke condition that we’re trying to alleviate,” FDNY Battalion Chief John Porretto said at the scene. “Units are going to remain on scene until all the smoke alleviates.”

The fire marshal will determine the causes of the fire.

A second blaze broke out 15 minutes later on the Upper East Side at 1576 2nd Ave., officials said.

A three-alarm fire at 213 W. 34th Street in Manhattan that left one dead
A three-alarm fire at 213 W. 34th St. in Manhattan left one dead.
NYFD

One man died in the fire and a second man was in serious condition at Lenox Hill Hospital, police said.

A firefighter suffered minor injuries battling the blaze and was taken to Cornell Hospital, fire officials said.

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