Aurora Wisconsin pharmacist at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital arrested intentionally destroying 500 Moderna vaccines of which 57 were inadvertently given to patients.
A Wisconsin pharmacist has been accused of deliberately spoiling more than 500 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine after leaving them out overnight before 57 people were given the ‘ineffective’ dose.
Grafton Police arrested a former employee of the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Thursday afternoon on charges of first degree recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug, and criminal damage to property.
The male healthcare worker, who has not been named, is being held at the Ozaukee County jail.
The value of the spoiled vaccines is estimated to be around $8,000 to $11,000.
Authorities have yet to identify a motive NPR reported.
Deliberate course of actions to make vaccine medications ineffective
The suspect’s arrest comes the same day Wisconsin health officials revealed that 57 people were given the ineffective dose of the vaccine after it had been ‘deliberately’ spoiled.
Dr. Jeff Bahr, president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group in Wisconsin, said Thursday that the un-named worker had not only taken the vials out of refrigeration overnight Friday as first thought but had also done so Thursday night – returning them to the fridge the next morning before anyone noticed.
The Moderna vials must be stored between 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. They can remain effective for up to 12 hours if left at room temperature. Beyond that, the drug is rendered useless.
Suspicions were initially raised after a pharmacist technician discovered the vials out of the fridge Saturday morning.
Because hospital officials were unaware they had also been left out the night before, some of the doses were presumed to be fine and were given to 57 people before the remainder were discarded.
Aurora Medical Center Grafton is now working with Moderna to determine how the affected individuals can now be vaccinated safely.
The medical center originally thought the doses ‘were inadvertently removed from a pharmacy refrigerator overnight,’ but on Wednesday said the suspect had acted ‘intentionally’ and fired him, while Grafton Police and the FBI launched an investigation.
A pharmacy technician first discovered 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine had been left outside the fridge in which they were being stored in the early hours of Saturday.
The technician returned the vials to the fridge and reported the incident to their superiors.
Bahr said the pharmacist responsible claimed at first they had simply made an ‘inadvertent error’ in leaving them out of the fridge when they were accessing other items in the same unit.
The vaccine can be kept outside of a fridge for up to 12 hours before it becomes ineffective.
Based on the belief that the removal was accidental and that the vials had been out of the fridge for less than this time, clinical leaders at the hospital ‘determined that the vaccines were still able to be administered’ that morning.
A total of 57 people were given their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on the morning of December 26 at Aurora Medical Center Grafton.
Pharmacist understood he was making vaccines ineffective
The remainder of the vials were then discarded after being ‘rendered ineffective’.
But following an internal review, hospital staff grew ‘increasingly suspicious’ of the pharmacist’s behavior over the next few days, according to Bahr.
He was suspended before finally admitting ‘after multiple interviews’ to ‘intentionally removing’ the vials from the fridge.
The pharmacist then also admitted that he had removed the vials from the fridge and left them out overnight Thursday but had returned them to the fridge Friday morning before anyone saw.
This meant the vials were actually ineffective or noneffective, Bahr said.
Bahr insisted there is ‘no evidence’ the ineffective doses may have harmed the individuals given them and the hospital is working with Moderna to formulate a plan for how those affected can be given an effective dose safely.
‘The 57 have been notified,’ said Bahr.
‘There is no evidence that the vaccines posed any harm to them other than being potentially less effective or ineffective.
‘Moderna reassured us there are no safety concerns with administering a vaccine that has been out of the fridge too long. We will partner with them and the FDA to figure out a strategy on the future vaccination of the affected 57 individuals.’
Bad faith actor
The hospital boss also said he is confident that no other vials other than the 57 had been spoiled because the hospital had not received any doses prior to the day in question.
There is also ‘no evidence’ he tampered with the vaccine in any other way other than removing it from the fridge, Bahr said, as he sought to reassure people that this was the work of one ‘bad actor rather than a bad process.’
Police and federal authorities launched an investigation Wednesday after the Wisconsin health system said the employee had admitted to deliberately spoiling 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine.
Aurora Medical Center first reported that the doses has been spoiled on Saturday, saying they had been accidentally left out unrefrigerated overnight by an employee at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton.
The health system said Wednesday that the doses of vaccine were deliberately spoiled.
In a statement late Wednesday, Aurora said the employee involved ‘acknowledged that they intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration.’
Aurora said it fired the employee and referred the matter to the authorities.
‘We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. We are more than disappointed that this individual’s actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine,’ the statement said.
Police and federal authorities launched an investigation Wednesday.
News of the spoiled vaccine doses in Wisconsin comes as the United States struggles to meet its goals for vaccination. So far, only about 2.8 million people have been vaccinated, far short of the 20 million the Trump administration had hoped for by year-end.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin continued to rise after dipping in early December.
The state Department of Health Services reported 3,810 newly confirmed cases on Thursday, marking the third straight day of rising daily infections.
To date Wisconsin has seen 481,102 COVID-19 cases with an overall death toll of 4,859.