Employees at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton inoculated nearly 60 people with the ruined vaccine, unaware that the doses had been left out for too long, making their injections less effective or ineffective, Jeff Bahr told reporters, Aurora Advocate Health Medical Director, during a conference call.
Recipients shouldn’t be in danger, he said, but the system is monitoring their conditions.
The pharmacist intentionally removed the vaccine from the refrigerator, Bahr said, but declined to comment on the individual’s motive, saying the person was fired and police are investigating.
He did not identify the pharmacist and emphasized that the facility’s security protocols are robust.
“This was a situation that involved a bad actor, rather than a bad process,” he said.
Police in Grafton, about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, said in a statement that the department, the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration are “actively” investigating.
No arrests have been announced. No one returned messages left at Grafton’s department or the FDA. Leonard Peace, a spokesman for the FBI’s Milwaukee office, said he could neither confirm nor deny that the office was involved in an investigation.
Bahr said during his teleconference that a pharmacy technician at the Grafton facility discovered 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine outside his refrigerator early Saturday morning. The vials contained enough doses to inoculate about 570 people, he said.
The vials were returned to the refrigerator and the technician reported the discovery. The pharmacist who initially recalled them said he took them out to access other items in the refrigerator and inadvertently did not replace them, Bahr said.
Moderna vaccine is viable for 12 hours after removal from refrigeration. In light of that, Bahr said medical staff used doses from the thawed vials to inoculate 57 people on Saturday and discarded the rest.
He said health system officials suspended the pharmacist after increasing their suspicions over the next few days. After multiple interviews, the pharmacist admitted Wednesday that he deliberately removed the vials from the refrigerator overnight on December 24-25 before returning them and then taking them out a second time, Bahr said.
That meant the vaccine had been out of the refrigerator for more than 12 hours, and the doses administered to the 57 people on Saturday became less effective or totally ineffective, Bahr said.
Moderna officials have told Aurora that the spoiled vaccine shouldn’t pose any safety concerns, Bahr said.
The Grafton facility had not received any Modern vaccines before Dec. 24, meaning the pharmacist would not have had a chance to handle any other vial, he added.
“We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. We are more than disappointed that the actions of this person resulted in a delay of more than 500 people in receiving their vaccine, ”the health system said in a statement.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin has risen in recent days after falling in early December. The state Department of Health Services reported 3,810 new confirmed cases Thursday, marking the third consecutive day of increased daily infections. The state has seen 481,102 cases.
COVID-19 was a factor in 41 more deaths, bringing the state’s total death toll to 4,859. The survival rate was unchanged at 99 percent.
Reported by Todd Richmond for the Associated Press.