News and Commentary

Pharmacist Arrested After Leaving Covid Vaccine Doses Unrefrigerated

"...we became increasingly suspicious of the behavior of the individual in question."
The Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at the King's Point retirement home in Delray Beach, Florida, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. The U.S. is vaccinating an average of only 200,000 people a day against Covid-19, and many states have used just a small percentage of the shipments sent to them this month.
Saul Martinez/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Police in Grafton, Wisconsin, have arrested a local pharmacist accused of removing 57 vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from a refrigerator and “intentionally” leaving them out.

According to police, the now-former employee of Grafton’s Advocate Aurora Health Hospital, whose name has not been released, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of “first degree recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug, and criminal damage to property,” as reported by the Daily Mail Friday.

At a press conference he held on Zoom, Dr. Jeff Bahr, president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group in Wisconsin, explained the series of events prior to the arrest.

“On Saturday, December 26, in the early morning, one of our pharmacy technicians discovered what turned out to be 57 vials of Moderna vaccine, enough for about 570 doses outside the refrigerator in which those vials were stored,” said Bahr. “The vaccine vials were returned to the refrigerator and the technician reported the incident to superiors. The pharmacist responsible for removing the vials maintained the position that this was an inadvertent error that occurred while the individual was accessing other items from the same refrigerator.”

He continued: “In the subsequent hours, clinical leaders conferred with one another, and based on the information available, determined that the vaccine was still able to be administered on the morning of December 26. Given the 12-hour period of viability after removal from refrigeration, we proceeded with vaccinations at Aurora Medical Center, Grafton, before the remainder of that vaccine was discarded, due to its having been rendered ineffective.”

“Over the subsequent days as we continued our internal review, we became increasingly suspicious of the behavior of the individual in question,” Bahr stated. “The individual was suspended and, after multiple interviews over the course of the week, admitted yesterday to intentionally removing the vaccine from refrigeration. Additionally, the individual admitted to removing and then returning the vaccine to the refrigerator overnight, on the evening of December 24, into December 25. No vaccinations were administered on December 24 or December 25, but this means that the 57 vaccinations that were administered on December 26 were rendered less effective or ineffective.”

“The 57 recipients of those vaccines have been notified,” Bahr asserted. “At this time there is no evidence that the vaccinations pose any harm to them other than being potentially less effective or ineffective. We have been in communications with Moderna and they have reassured us there are no safety concerns about administering vaccine that may have been out of refrigeration for too long.”

Aurora Health Hospital issued a statement saying, “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.”

An earlier version of this article suggested that the pharmacist had been charged; instead, he was arrested on suspicion of the actions. It has been revised to clarify that distinction.  

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