Police arrest pharmacist accused of intentionally spoiling COVID-19 vaccine
The FBI, FDA, and Grafton Police are investigating the incident
GRAFTON, Wis. (WBAY) - Police have arrested a pharmacist who admitted to twice removing vials of the COVID-19 vaccine from a refrigerator at a Wisconsin medical center.
The former employee of Aurora Medical Center - Grafton is accused of intentionally removing vials of the Moderna vaccine from refrigeration and leaving them out overnight, knowing they would be rendered ineffective.
Police are recommending charges of 1st Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, Adulterating a Prescription Drug, and Criminal Damage to Property.
The suspect, a Grafton resident, is being held at the Ozaukee County Jail pending formal charges.
“The former employee admitted to intentionally removing the vaccine knowing that if not properly stored the vaccine would be ineffective,” reads a statement from police.
The spoiled doses are worth an estimated $8,000-$11,000, according to police.
“Grafton detectives indicate that the individual knew the spoiled vaccinations would be useless and that people who received the vaccinations would think they had been vaccinated against the virus when in fact they were not,” police say.
Dr. Jeff Bahr, President, Aurora Health Care Medical Group, provided an update on the situation Thursday afternoon and provided a timeline of the events. Grafton Police, the FBI and the FDA are all assisting with the investigation.
“This is now a law enforcement matter,” says Dr. Bahr.
On Saturday, Dec. 26, a pharmacy technician found 57 vials, or about 570 doses, of the Moderna vaccine outside of a refrigerator and reported it to hospital officials. The vials were returned to the refrigerator.
The employee who removed the vials from the refrigerator told hospital officials that he had done so inadvertently while he was removing other items from the same refrigerator.
Clinicians determined at that time that the vaccine was still able to be administered on the morning of Dec. 26. The vaccine has a 12-hour window of viability after removal from cold storage.
“We proceeded with vaccinations at Aurora Medical Center-Grafton before the remainder of that vaccine was discarded due its having been rendered ineffective,” says Bahr.
Bahr says over the next few days, hospital officials became suspicious of the behavior of the person who removed the vials from the refrigerator.
“The individual was suspended, and after multiple interviews over the course of the week, admitted yesterday to intentionally removing the vaccine from refrigeration,” says Bahr.
This person also admitted to removing and then returning the vaccine to the refrigerator during the overnight hours of Dec. 24 to Dec. 25.
No vaccines were administered those days, but the vaccines administered on the Dec. 26 were rendered less effective or ineffective.
“The 57 recipients of those vaccines have been notified. At this time, there’s no evidence that the vaccinations pose any harm to them, other than being potentially less effective or ineffective,” says Bahr.
Bahr says the health care system has been in communication with Moderna.
“They have reassured us there are no safety concerns about administering a vaccine that may have been out of refrigeration for too long,” says Bahr.
The hospital system is partnering with Moderna and the FDA on a strategy for future vaccinations for the 57 workers.
“Importantly, there is no evidence that the individual in question tampered with the vaccine in any way other than removing it from refrigeration,” says Bahr.
Bahr stresses that there is no evidence this person tampered with any other vaccines.
Aurora officials say they continue to believe that vaccination is the way out of the pandemic, and the action was a violation of their core values.
“It’s important to note that despite the actions of one individual, the vaccine program here, and across the country, remains safe and critical to getting us out of the pandemic. That has not changed,” says Bahr.
“It’s become clear that this was a situation involving a bad actor as opposed to a bad process,” he stressed.
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