A pharmacist at a Wisconsin hospital was arrested and charged with deliberately failing to take more than 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine out of the refrigerator last week, the Grafton, Wisconsin Police Department said Thursday.
The hospital administered some of the doses before realizing they were spoiled, the hospital system said.
The pharmacist, a man the police did not name, was arrested on recommended charges of reckless safety endangering, adulteration of a prescription drug and criminal damage to property, all crimes. He is being held in Ozaukee County Jail.
It was not clear what his motive could have been. The Grafton Police Department is investigating the incident with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Food and Drug Administration.
The hospital system, Advocate Aurora Health, has evolved since it first found vaccines were taken out of the refrigerator overnight on Dec. 26.
At first it was said that the cans had been accidentally removed. On Wednesday it was said that the pharmacist had admitted to having removed the vials on purpose. On Thursday, Jeff Bahr, the president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group, said in a video call with reporters that the pharmacist admitted taking the vials out of the refrigerator on two consecutive nights – Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – and the hospital did done 57 of the doses given before determining how long they were at room temperature.
Dr. Bahr said there was no evidence that the pharmacist tampered with the vaccine other than taking it out of the refrigerator and that the pharmacist was no longer employed in the hospital system.
Dr. Bahr said the hospital had consulted with Moderna, the pharmaceutical company that made the vaccines, and was reassured that the tainted vaccines would not harm the people who received them. Because the mRNA molecules in the vaccine break apart quickly at room temperature, the doses became “less effective or ineffective,” said Dr. Bahr.
He said the 57 people who received the vaccine had been notified. He did not say what the hospital was up to about further doses for those people who are likely to be healthcare workers, despite Dr. Bahr did not specifically say so.
The hospital didn’t think the incident was due to negligence or gaps in its protocols for managing vaccine doses, said Dr. Bahr.
“It has become clear that this was a situation where a bad actor was involved as opposed to a bad trial,” he said.
Wisconsin saw a devastating surge in coronavirus cases in the fall and was at times the hardest hit state in the country relative to its population. Transmission has slowed down a bit since then, but the state is still reporting 39 new cases per 100,000 people per day. At least 5,195 Wisconsin residents have died.
As of Tuesday, the state had received 156,875 doses of vaccines and administered 47,157 doses, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health.