The Wisconsin hospital worker accused of intentionally removing 57 vials of a COVID-19 vaccine from a pharmacy refrigerator has been arrested, local police announced Thursday. The worker had already been fired by the Aurora Medical Center, which said it was forced to throw out more than 500 doses of the vaccine as a result of the incident.
Grafton police said the individual has been arrested on three recommended charges: First Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, Adulterating a Prescription Drug and Criminal Damage to Property, all of which are felonies. Police did not name the individual, but did identify him as a man. The suspect is being held at the Ozaukee County jail.
The hospital launched an investigation and was originally led to believe inadvertent human error was to blame, reported CBS Chicago. But on Wednesday, the worker who was responsible admitted to doing it on purpose, Advocate Aurora Health said.
The department indicated that some patients were vaccinated with the non-refrigerated doses. But it said that health officials do not believe that anyone who received a dose that was not refrigerated properly is at medical risk, and instead described those doses as “useless.” The department estimated the value of the spoiled vaccines to be between $8,000 and $11,000.
Police in Grafton previously said that the department, the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration are “actively” investigating the case.
“We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic,” Advocate Aurora Health said in a statement. “We are more than disappointed that this individual’s actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine. This was a violation of our core values, and the individual is no longer employed by us.”
Like the other vaccine approved for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer, the Moderna vaccine requires initial transport and storage at deep-freeze temperatures, but can then be stored locally at more typical refrigeration temperatures for several days before use.
Despite federal officials’ stated goal of immunizing 20 million Americans by the end of this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker only about 12 million doses had been distributed by Thursday morning, and fewer than 3 million had actually been administered.
Officials with Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and Operation Warp Speed — the military-led operation to deliver vaccines across the country — told reporters on Wednesday that the slower-than-expected administration of the shots could be due partly to a lag in reporting, but they acknowledged not all the vaccine doses had reached their intended destinations.
Army General Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, conceded that some of the doses were still “on the road” as he spoke on Wednesday. Nevertheless, he voiced confidence in the government’s efforts to inoculate Americans against the coronavirus.
“We are really doing well, in my opinion, in distribution,” he said, contradicting the CDC figures by saying on Wednesday that “over 14 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed.”
CBSNews.com’s Audrey McNamara contributed to this report.
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