News and Commentary

Police Arrest Pharmacist Suspected Of Spoiling COVID-19 Vaccines
Covid-19 Coronavirus Vaccine vials in a row macro close up
MarsBars via Getty Images

A since-fired hospital pharmacist has been arrested for allegedly removing COVID-19 vaccine vials from storage for two nights in a row, causing a Wisconsin-based hospital to administer spoiled vaccines to some hospital team members on Saturday.

The Grafton Police Department said Thursday that the ex-pharmacist was suspected of engaging in criminal damage to property, reckless endangerment, and of adulterating a prescription, per The Associated Press.

Moderna, the manufacturer of the vaccines, informed Aurora Health Care, the hospital system where the pharmacist worked, that the spoiled vaccines did not pose a safety concern, but that the recipients would be still monitored.

Police did not name the suspect on account that no charges had been formally filed but estimated the financial cost of the spoiled vaccines at between $8,000 and $11,000. The suspect was employed by Aurora Health Care’s Grafton location. Police said Thursday that 57 doses of the vaccine were administered and that the suspect understood recipients of the spoiled vaccine would falsely believe they had been successfully inoculated with the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Jeff Bahr, a health officer for the Advocate Aurora Health Care system, said the since-fired employee removed 57 vials of Moderna vaccine — the equivalent of over 500 doses of vaccine — overnight on Christmas eve before returning them on Christmas morning. The very next night, alleges the health care system, the employee did it again.

The health care center did not disclose a motive for the suspect but said the pharmacist admitted to doing it deliberately after several interviews.

The health care center said they initially believed the vaccines were removed inadvertently, a process that came to their attention after a pharmacy technician found the vials sitting out, reports AP. The since-fired pharmacist had said at the time that the vaccines were moved to access something.

In a statement Wednesday evening, the health care center said an employee had now admitted to “intentionally” removing the vaccines.

The health care center previously said the Grafton location managed to administer some of the vaccine doses within the 12-hour post-refrigeration window, but the majority of the doses could not be used in time and had to be discarded due to spoilage concerns. Amidst the Thursday development, Bahr told AP that the vaccines administered on the previous Saturday — after the vials had been removed for a second night — were in fact spoiled.

“This was a situation involving a bad actor,” said Bahr, “as opposed to a bad process.”

The hospital system said in a statement Wednesday: “We are more than disappointed that this individual’s actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine.”

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine tracking dashboard, nearly 12.5 million doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been distributed to states as of Wednesday morning. Bloomberg News, which tracks vaccine data separately, shows on its dashboard that 3.1 million vaccines have been administered in the U.S.

About 160,000 Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been distributed to Wisconsin, but only about 47,000, or 29.5% of them, have been used, according to Bloomberg News.

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