OAKLAND, California – Thousands of people who visited the mass vaccination site at the Oakland Coliseum received the wrong doses of vaccines this week, raising questions about the drug’s effectiveness, according to two medical workers who contacted KTVU.
People who received very few doses of Pfizer received their vaccinations on Monday before 2 p.m. But at that point, the problem was identified and stopped that night, according to EMTs, who asked to remain anonymous to maintain their jobs. and that was confirmed by state officials. That is the only day and time period in question.
An ERM estimated that 4,300 people had been given the injections by then. A total of 6,000 people can be vaccinated at that site on weekdays.
State officials question the idea that anyone will be less protected by the smaller doses of the vaccine, although another infectious disease expert said there isn’t enough science yet to prove it. The claim comes at a time when people across the country are clamoring to get vaccinated, and shortages and confusion abound over who’s appointments and who’s eligible.
The problem at the Coliseum site is due to the orange cap syringes that were used and the amount of Pfizer vaccine they can administer.
The optimal amount to receive is 0.3 ml of vaccine.
However, both EMTs said the 0.3 ml syringes they received from a national stockpile left about a third of the vaccine stuck to the bottom of the plastic container; the syringes are designed in such a way that the plunger cannot go all the way down, leaving about 0.05 to 0.1 ml of wasted vaccine.
That means that many of the people who received injections before the problem was discovered on Monday could have received a dose less than 0.2 ml.
Dr. Gerry Meta, medical director for the Coliseum site, disagreed with the amount of vaccine that actually got stuck, saying that when he tested it, he saw that there was less of it left in the syringe. But he recognized that it all depended on how hard someone pushed the plunger.
Jorge Muñoz, 44, the legal guardian of his brother, who has cerebral palsy, received a vaccination on Monday during the time period in question and said he was very concerned.
“The president did not have these problems,” Muñoz said, referring to Donald Trump, who tested positive for coronavirus and received excellent medical care. “But we ordinary people do.”
John Jones III of Oakland had long been critical of any type of vaccination. And finding out what happened at the Colosseum only solidified his skepticism.
“Historically, there have been a number of abuses towards the black community from the medical field, namely the 40-year Tuskegee Study,” Jones said, referring to an unethical study on African American men and syphilis. “Anything that seems to benefit us always seems to have an adverse impact.”
A similar problem with syringes was reported across the country in January when “Operation Warp Speed” vaccination kits contained syringes that kept portions of the vaccine trapped inside.
Both medical workers who spoke to KTVU also claimed that store managers and leaders at the Oakland site wanted to “sweep the issue under the rug” just to keep vaccination numbers high.
The Colosseum site was created specifically to help people in underserved communities and to make sure they could get vaccinated.
This is a 0.3 ml syringe that is supposed to be used to administer the Pfizer vaccine. Photo: courtesy of Oakland Coliseum medical staff
Authorities with the California Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, both agencies that run the site, were unaware of the problem until Tuesday, when KTVU alerted them to the syringe capacity issue. raised by the two complainants.
Cal OES spokesman Brian Ferguson said that because the whistleblowers brought the issue to light, high-level meetings were held Tuesday afternoon between their agencies, as well as the state Department of Public Health, US Health and Human Services and Pfizer, to determine what to do.
RELATED: Oakland Coliseum’s mass vaccination site is one of 100 Biden promised to open
In the end, Ferguson said stakeholders felt the amount was “negligible” and that there was no need to contact any of the patients who may have received smaller doses of the vaccine at this time.
In an interview Wednesday, Ferguson said: “We do not believe that anyone was underdosed.”
Ferguson added that after speaking with doctors and Pfizer, authorities were told that the dosage was in accordance with proper health guidelines and protocols.
However, if things change and “if deficiencies are identified or follow-up is needed,” Ferguson said FEMA and Cal OES “will make corrections quickly.” He said authorities have everyone’s contact information through the registration portal.
Ferguson also refuted claims that managers told healthcare workers to keep the issue hidden, saying some pharmacists and medical directors had met on the issue and alerted the proper authorities in a timely manner.
These syringes are spring loaded and deliver the proper amount of vaccine. Courtesy: Oakland Coliseum medical worker
UCSF infectious disease physician Dr. Peter Chin-Hong said people shouldn’t panic.
He believes that people who received an underdose can make up for it during the second round of injections, even if they are not given more to make up for the lower amount. There are indications, he said, that even one dose of Pfizer’s vaccine is quite effective, but for now, people with underdoses should act like they haven’t been vaccinated at all. After the second dose, he said, they should be fine.
And if people really want to be calm, they can ask their doctor for an antibody test after the second dose just to be sure. “They are probably protected,” he said.
However, Dr. John Swartzberg, emeritus clinical professor of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley Public Health, noted that scientific studies have yet to be done to determine how effective a vaccine is at a lower dose.
RELATED: Pfizer Study Suggests Vaccine Works Against Virus Variant
And he said the burden of what to do should rest with Cal OES and FEMA to unite scientific minds at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control to figure out how to proceed.
But he agreed that it is not appropriate to give a higher dose of vaccine the second time, since the optimal amount is 0.3 milliliters and no more. He figured maybe the people who got the least amount should probably get a booster shot in the next three months or so.
“What you have to do is a judgment call,” Swartzberg said. “There is no science to guide us yet. It is very likely that these people already have decent immunity and I don’t want everyone to freak out. Now they just have to figure out what is the best thing to do in a bad situation.”
Even after these revelations came to light, one of the EMTs who first approached KTVU said the orange-capped syringes are still being used at the Colosseum site.
Now they are only being filled with 0.4 ml of vaccine. That means people are now getting the proper dose, but 0.1 ml of vaccine is left in the bottom of the syringe, the EMT said.
He also said a different spring loaded syringe is being used at the site that delivers the proper amount, but that tool is more expensive, he said. He also provided photographs of both syringes to compare the designs.
Earlier this week, he said he was told not to use the spring-loaded syringes, but now he and other medical personnel are using a combination of the faces and the orange caps.
He said he agrees with that, as long as the people are getting the right dose, and that waste in government, for him, is normal.
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at [email protected] or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez