(Reuters) – A Wisconsin hospital pharmacist was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of sabotaging more than 500 doses of the coronovirus vaccine, intentionally removed from the refrigeration to deteriorate it, police and medical officials said .
Officials said the pharmacist, an employee at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin, received 57 vials from cold storage earlier this week that were then removed, but have not been publicly identified.
Each vial contains 10 doses. Approximately 60 out of 60 were administered before the drug was left to prescribe due to the ineffective of the medication prescribed by hospital authorities. The remaining 500 plus doses were then omitted.
Vaccine manufacturer Modern Inc. has assured the hospital that receiving an injection from one of the doses extracted from refrigeration does not create a safety issue, other than that the recipient should not be left vulnerable to COVID infection, Dr. Jeff Bahar, Aurangabad Health Care Medical Group Chairman.
Neither Aurora Health nor law enforcement offered any possible motive for the sabotage.
Those receiving ineffective doses have been reported and will need to be vaccinated again. The episode means vaccination will be delayed for 570 people who have received their first shot of the two-dose vaccine so far.
Speaking to an online press briefing on Thursday, Bahr said pharmacists tampering with the vaccine had no evidence other than to remove them from refrigeration, or that there were any other dose disturbances.
Grafton police said in a statement that pharmacists knew that spoiled vaccinations would be useless and that those who received vaccinations would feel that they were vaccinated against the virus when in fact they were not.
The incident comes amid public opinion polls showing widespread skepticism about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines provided emergency use authorization by federal regulators 11 months after the virus in the United States.
The reluctance to take the vaccine has even been expressed by some health workers who are among those named in the first line to receive them.
Hospital officials said that when the vials were initially queried after they were discovered incorrectly on December 26, the pharmacist said it was an unknown error, but deliberately during further review of the case admitted on Wednesday Hospital officials said to remove the vaccine from refrigeration.
Police said the man, who hails from Grafton in the Milwaukee suburban area, was arrested on Thursday and charged with felony charges for negligent protection for his safety at the Ozuki County Jail.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Rebecca Spalding in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis