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Wisconsin health worker arrested after intentionally spoiling COVID-19 vaccine doses

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the suspect behind the incident was arrested on Thursday.

A Wisconsin health-care worker has been arrested for allegedly removing dozens of vials of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine from a pharmacy refrigerator on purpose, forcing more than 500 doses to be thrown out.

Police in Grafton, about 32 kilometres north of Milwaukee, said the Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist was arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property, all of which are felonies.

The pharmacist has been fired and police said in a news release that he was in jail. Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged.

Read more: Long lines, confusion: U.S. vaccine rollout off to a slow, messy start

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Advocate Aurora Health said in a statement Wednesday that the individual admitted to their action after the company was led to believe the incident, which happened last weekend, was due to human error.

“We are more than disappointed that this individual’s actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine,” the company said.

The man’s motive remains unclear. Police said that detectives believe he knew the spoiled doses would be useless and people who received them would mistakenly think they’d been vaccinated when they hadn’t.

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Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff Bahr told reporters during a teleconference Thursday afternoon that the pharmacist deliberately removed 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from refrigeration at a Grafton medical centre overnight on Dec. 24 into Dec. 25, returned them, then left them out again on the night of Dec. 25 into Saturday.

Each vial contains 10 doses of the vaccine, totally 570 doses.

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A pharmacy technician discovered the vials outside the refrigerator on Saturday morning. Bahr said the pharmacist initially said that he had removed the vials to access other items in the refrigerator and had inadvertently failed to put them back.

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The Moderna vaccine is viable for 12 hours outside refrigeration, so workers used the vaccine to inoculate 57 people before discarding the rest. Police said the discarded doses were worth between $8,000 and $11,000.

Bahr said health system officials grew more suspicious of the pharmacist as they reviewed the incident. After multiple interviews, the pharmacist acknowledged Wednesday that he removed the vaccine intentionally over the two nights, Bahr said.

Bahr declined to comment on the pharmacist’s motive. He said the hospital system’s security protocols are sound.

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

Read more: ‘Falling far behind’: Biden criticizes pace of U.S. coronavirus vaccine roll out

 

Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services says it has administered 47,157 doses of the vaccine as of Tuesday, 6,306 of which were made by Moderna. More than 265,000 doses of both the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have been allocated for the state, about 157,000 of which have been received so far.

The state is currently one of the many pandemic hotspots in the U.S., with close to half a million infections and over 4,800 deaths to date.

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Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wrote a letter to President Donald Trump earlier in December asking him to prioritize more doses for Wisconsin due to high case numbers, swamped hospitals and a lack of statewide mitigation mandates.

Earlier this month, Trump administration officials said they planned to have 20 million doses of the vaccine distributed across the country by the end of the year. But according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control, just over 11.4 million doses have been distributed and only 2.1 million people have received their first dose.

On Tuesday, President-elect Joe Biden warned that at the current pace, “it’s gonna take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”

–With files from the Associated Press