DEC. 31 UPDATE: Fifty-seven people received shots from the unrefrigerated vaccine bottles and the doses may not be effective, health officials said today. Federal law enforcement has been notified.
Advocate Aurora Health attorneys said today they would contact these 57 people for receiving COVID-19 vaccinations from vials that a pharmacist allegedly left unrefrigerated twice since Dec. 24 at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin have. The vaccines might be less effective or ineffective, you said.
The cans were part of around 500 cans that a hospital pharmacist – Aurora President Dr. Jeff Bahr referred to as a “bad actor” – took it out of the refrigerator overnight on December 24th and again overnight on December 26th.
The Grafton Police Department announced this afternoon that the former Advocate Aurora employee, a Grafton resident, has been arrested for “tampering with and destroying 57 vials containing approximately 570 doses of the novel coronavirus vaccine.”
A police investigation found that the man, whose name was not released, was taking vials out of the refrigerator knowing it would render the vaccines unusable, the department said. The value of the tainted cans is estimated at $ 8,000 to $ 11,000.
The man was arrested on recommended charges of reckless security threats, adulteration of a prescription drug and criminal damage to property, the statement said. He is being held in Ozaukee County Jail.
Meanwhile, Bahr said at a press conference that Advocate Aurora Health had notified the FBI, Grafton Police and Wisconsin Health Department that the incident was now a law enforcement matter. He did not provide any information about a possible motive, but said the pharmacist was initially suspended and is now no longer working for the health system.
Vaccine maker Moderna told the hospital that the uncooled vaccines released on December 26 did not raise safety concerns but may not be effective against COVID-19, Bahr said. The vaccines were used after consulting Moderna when the hospital initially believed they were accidentally left out for less than 12 hours, Bahr said.
Hospital officials became increasingly suspicious of the behavior of the pharmacist, who allegedly later admitted taking the vials out of the refrigerator twice, Bahr said.
Although the system had to discard more than 500 doses, Bahr said the 26-hospital system’s vaccination program will continue as planned after Grafton Hospital received additional bottles of vaccine from other locations.
Bahr said an internal review of the incident did not reveal any significant security vulnerabilities that would warrant changing their current logs.
“We firmly believe that our processes are solid,” said Bahr. “This was more because it was a bad actor than a bad trial.”
However, the incident raises security concerns about the storage of coronavirus vaccines in healthcare facilities. Like Advocate Aurora, other hospital systems have put security in place to prepare for the vaccine to be distributed.
Charles Jolie, a spokesman for the health system at Rush University in Chicago, said they had no plans to reevaluate their safety protocols and expressed confidence that the systems they developed to safely store and distribute the vaccine will continue to be effective .
“We ran into no problems and developed a system that gives us great confidence as we continue to be partners in vaccine distribution,” said Jolie.
Our earlier story is below: