57 people received potentially ineffective vaccine after Aurora pharmacist left vials out overnight

Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee held a COVID vaccine clinic for frontline workers on Dec. 15. Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee held a COVID vaccine clinic for frontline workers on Dec. 15. (Photo: Advocate Aurora Health)

Last updated on January 4th, 2021 at 02:04 pm

Fifty-seven people received a COVID-19 vaccine at Aurora Medical Center-Grafton that was determined to be potentially ineffective after a pharmacist intentionally removed vaccine vials from a refrigerator overnight.

The now-fired Aurora Medical Center-Grafton pharmacist admitted on Wednesday to purposely leaving 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine, which equates to more than 500 potential doses, out of the refrigerator overnight on Dec. 25, according to Jeff Bahr, president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group.

The former pharmacist was arrested Thursday. According to a police report, he intentionally left the vaccine out of refrigerated storage, knowing those who were given the vaccine would think they had been inoculated against the virus when they actually were not. Police have not yet named the suspect.

Leaders of the medical center learned of the situation on the morning of Dec. 26 after a pharmacy technician discovered the vials outside the refrigerator and reported the incident.

Initially, the pharmacist responsible for removing the vials from the refrigerator claimed it was an inadvertent error.

During an internal review, leaders became “increasingly suspicious” of the pharmacist’s behavior and the individual later admitted to intentionally spoiling the vaccine by leaving it out, Bahr said. The employee also admitted to removing and returning the vaccine to refrigeration overnight on Dec. 24-25. The medical center did not administer any vaccinations on Dec. 24 or Dec. 25, Bahr said.

After learning of the incident on Dec. 26, clinical leaders determined that vaccine, which can be kept at room temperature for up to 12 hours, could still be able to be administered that morning. The medical center proceeded to vaccinate 57 people before discarding the remainder of the vaccine “due to its having been rendered ineffective,” Bahr said.

Those individuals have been notified that the vaccine they received was potentially less effective or ineffective.

Bahr said Moderna has confirmed there are no safety concerns associated with receiving the vaccine after it has been left at room temperature too long, aside from it being potentially ineffective.

The value of the spoiled doses is estimated to be between $8,000 and $11,000, according to the Grafton Police Department. Police are recommending felony charges of First Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, Adulterating a Prescription Drug and Criminal Damage to Property.

Advocate Aurora has not disclosed the employee’s purpose for leaving out the vaccine.

Bahr said there is no evidence that the employee tampered with any other vaccine at the medical center.

After reviewing their policies and procedures, Advocate Aurora leaders determined the incident resulted from a “bad actor” rather than a bad process, Bahr said.

Over the past two weeks, more than 23,000 Advocate Aurora employees across its Wisconsin and Illinois facilities have received the COVID vaccine.

“The vaccine program here and across the country remains safe and critical to getting us out of the pandemic,” Bahr said. “That has not changed.”

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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