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Police arrest pharmacist for alleged deliberate spoiling of 500 COVID-19 vaccine doses

A vial of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine
A vial of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen on a table before Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) received her vaccination in Topeka, Kan. on Wednesday.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

Authorities arrested a suburban Milwaukee pharmacist Thursday suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of COVID-19 vaccine by removing it from refrigeration for two nights.

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 that he was in jail. Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged.

His 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.

Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff Bahr told reporters during a teleconference Thursday afternoon that the pharmacist deliberately removed 57 vials that held hundreds of doses of the Moderna-National Institutes of Health vaccine from refrigeration at a Grafton medical center overnight on Dec. 24-25, returned them, then left them out again on the night of Dec. 25-26. The vials contained enough doses to inoculate 570 people.

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Police in Grafton, which is about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, said in a statement that the department, FBI and Food and Drug Administration were “actively” investigating the case. Police said they were notified of the alleged tampering Wednesday night.

The CDC said 11.45 million vaccine doses had been distributed but only 2.13 million people had gotten shots, as local health agencies struggle.

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

The Moderna vaccine is still 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 deliberately and left it out overnight Dec. 24-25, returned it to the refrigerator at some point and then removed it again overnight Dec. 25-26.

Bahr said that means that the doses people received Saturday are all but useless. Moderna has told Aurora that there’s no safety concerns but the system is monitoring them closely, he said.

Bahr declined to comment on the pharmacist’s motive.

Aurora said it had fired the employee and referred the matter to the authorities. The statement said nothing about a possible motive for the spoilage.

“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,” the statement said.


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