Wisconsin hospital worker arrested for spoiled vaccine doses

Wisconsin hospital worker arrested for spoiled vaccine doses
An employee of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccines at the medical center, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (Source: Walt Unks)

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (WMTV) - Police in Wisconsin say they’ve arrested the fired hospital employee suspected of intentionally spoiling COVID-19 vaccine.

The Grafton Police Department said the former Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist was arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property. The department said in a news release Thursday that he was in jail.

Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged.

Fifty-seven people received an ineffective dose of the COVID-19 vaccine following an employee at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton intentionally removing 500 doses of it.

Officials noted that there are no negative side effects to those vaccines administered, but the vaccine will not be effective in preventing the virus.

In a news conference Thursday, officials said an Aurora Advocate pharmacist removed the vaccines from a refrigerator twice last week. The employee was fired and police launched an investigation Wednesday night. The health system has also notified the Dept. of Health Services and the FBI.

The health system said it was originally believed that the pharmacist technician left the vials outside refrigeration in the early morning of Dec. 26 and then reported the incident to their superiors. Officials determined that the vaccine could still be administered the same morning. The pharmacist said that it was an “inadvertent error” when they were working with other materials.

After reviewing the incident, the staff member admitted to intentionally removing and then returning the vaccine again overnight between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The president of Aurora Health Care did not say how long the vaccines were left out. There were no vaccines administered on Dec. 24 and 25. The 57 ineffective doses were administered on Dec. 26 and all people who have been vaccinated with those vaccines have been notified.

“It is clear that this situation involved a bad actor as opposed to a bad process,” said Dr. Jeff Bahr. “We’ve certainly used this to have additional dialogue and ensuring learning around our processes.

The health system’s president said there was no evidence that any other vaccine vials were tampered with at the facility. There is also no confirmed motive.

DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said she was disappointed that any COVID-19 vaccine was wasted in Wisconsin.

“As we have seen over the last few weeks, our healthcare workers are eager to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19 through vaccination,” Palm said. “They are on the frontlines of our fight against this illness and have seen the dire consequences that can result from contracting COVID-19.”

Palm said that DHS has worked closely with Aurora on the investigation. She also said DHS will continue to work with health care agencies to get as many vaccines administered as possible.

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