A hospital healthcare worker in Wisconsin could face criminal charges after admitting to intentionally ruining hundreds of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The pharmacist, who has yet to be publicly identified, was arrested on Thursday on three recommended charges: Endangering Safety in the First Degree, Adulterating a Prescription Drug, and Criminal Damage to Property.
The incident is estimated to cost the hospital between $8,000 and $11,000.
Authorities are still investigating the incident, but it’s causing headaches up and down the supply chain.
A Disturbing Incident
The worker from Aurora Medical Center in Wisconsin is currently in custody. Officials say the man removed over 500 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from the refrigerator. They were left out for two consecutive nights, rendering the drug “useless”.
The vaccine must be stored at subzero temperatures, otherwise it isn’t effective against COVID-19.
Authorities believe the pharmacist intentionally rendered the drug useless so that people would think they were getting vaccinated when, in reality, they wouldn’t have immunity from the virus. The hospital says it was forced to throw out the spoiled doses and that the pharmacist has already been fired.
The incident was originally believed to be human error, but the facility discovered that it was intentional after launching an investigation. On Wednesday, the worker admitted to committing the act on purpose.
Aurora Medical Center says some of the ineffective doses were administered to essential workers before they caught the issue. Authorities do not believe the doses pose a medical risk to patients, but they don’t provide immunity from the coronavirus.
There is no evidence to suggest the pharmacist did anything to tamper with the drug other than leaving it out.
Jeff Bahr, president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group, commented, “There is no evidence that the individual in question tampered with the vaccine in any way other than removing it from refrigeration,” he said. “There is no evidence to suggest that this individual tampered with any other vaccine administered at Aurora Medical Center-Grafton.”
The hospital says it reported the incident to Moderna and is working with officials to correct the issue. It has notified all of the 57 people that received the ineffective drug.
Police in the city of Grafton, WI confirmed that the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration are actively investigating the case.
The hospital released a statement following the incident: “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. This was a violation of our core values, and the individual is no longer employed by us.”
What About Motive?
Officials are still investigating the incident, but it seems as if the pharmacist wanted people to think they were getting the protection even though they weren’t.
The motive has yet to be confirmed, but with so much misinformation regarding the vaccine circulating around, he may have distrusted the science behind the drug, even though it’s proven to be safe and effective. Others believe he may have rendered the vaccine useless in order to help spread the virus in hopes of reaching herd immunity, even though epidemiologists have lamented this idea.
It’s unclear if there was a lock on the refrigerator containing the vaccine. Some have suggested the pharmacist opened the container to take something else out of the fridge.
“Somebody’s not going to be storing their salad in the same refrigerator where the vaccine is stored,” said Diane Ginsburg, a clinical professor who has helped coordinate vaccination efforts at UT Health Austin.
Ginsburg says storing the drug is like the “Fort Knox for a vaccine.” She says she told her staff to treat the vaccine as if it were “liquid gold.”
The incident will further delay the vaccination process in the state as thousands of healthcare workers wait for their first dose. Officials say that Wisconsin has received 159,800 doses of the vaccine and 37,446 people have received their first dose.
The state’s Department of Health Services has since released a statement, “It is disappointing that any COVID-19 vaccine was wasted in Wisconsin. We will continue to work with our healthcare partners to get as many shots in arms as quickly and safely as possible.”