Ricardo Torres | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Advocate Aurora Health says a now-fired employee intentionally removed 57 vials of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine from a refrigerator last weekend, causing them to become ineffective and be discarded.
Grafton Police Department said in a statement late Wednesday that it was notified by Aurora shortly after 6 p.m. “regarding an employee tampering with vials of the COVID-19 vaccine” at its hospital at 975 Port Washington Road.
The incident is being investigated by the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration as well as Grafton police, according to the statement.
Initially, Aurora was “led to believe” the removal was an error. But Wednesday, the employee “acknowledged that they intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration,” according to a statement from the health care provider.
Aurora said the action by the employee is “a violation of our core values.”
The employee was fired, and Aurora said it notified “appropriate authorities for further investigation.”
Aurora said no other employees were involved and that it plans to release more information on Thursday.
Its statement continues:
“We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. We are more than disappointed that this individual’s action will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine.”
Each vial contains enough vaccine for 10 vaccinations.
The vials were removed Friday and most were discarded Saturday, according to an earlier statement from Aurora.
Clinicians were still able to administer some of the vaccine from the vials within the allowable 12-hour post-refrigeration window but had to discard most of it, Aurora said.
“The intentional destruction of vaccine doses is disheartening,” said Wisconsin state Sen. Alberta Darling, who represents Grafton and the 8th District. “Those doses are meant for front line workers. This senseless act puts them in danger.”
Darling said her office is in contact with officials from Aurora Health.
“I applaud Aurora Health for their quick response to this senseless act.”
A pharmacist who teaches immunization training said that keeping vaccines at the correct temperature from manufacturer to patient is one of the most important lessons students learn.
“It’s very important that technicians, or the other staff that might be unpacking from the distributor, are taking care of those items that have to go in the freezer or refrigerator right away,” said the pharmacist, who asked not to be identified in this story because of fear of employment consequences.
The Moderna vaccine can be stored at freezer temperatures for up to six months, and is stable at regular refrigerator temperatures for 30 days — making it simpler to transport than the Pfizer vaccine. But once thawed, the vaccine cannot be refrozen.
More: How coronavirus vaccines will be shipped and distributed using ‘cold chain’ technologies
At room temperature, the Moderna vaccine can keep for up to 12 hours.
Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which is stored in undisclosed locations around the state, Moderna’s vaccine was sent directly to the entities that are conducting the vaccinations, according to a Dec. 21 statement from Gov. Tony Evers’ office.
State health officials cited “security reasons” for not giving information on the eight regional hubs where the Pfizer vaccine — which must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures — is stored, saying they’d consulted with the Department of Homeland Security.
“This is precious vaccine. We do not want to create any security risks,” Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services, said Dec. 14 during a virtual news conference.
DHS estimates it will take “several months” before those in the first priority group for receiving the vaccination — frontline health care providers and residents and staff at nursing homes — are vaccinated.
The state has been allocated 265,575 doses, according to DHS.
As of Tuesday, DHS reported that 156,875 doses had been shipped to locations across Wisconsin and more than 47,000 administered — 40,850 of the Pfizer vaccine and 6,306 of the Moderna vaccine.
The figures varied slightly from those from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reported that as of Wednesday morning, Wisconsin had received 159,800 doses of the vaccine and 37,446 people ha received their first dose.
The state first received doses of the Pfizer vaccine in mid-December followed by the Moderna vaccine.
Wisconsin received 49,725 doses of the Pfizer vaccine the first week but leaders were then told that the state would be receiving fewer doses than expected the next week. That prompted Evers to call on the federal government to send more vaccine to Wisconsin.
The federal government said there was an error in its initial estimates of states’ vaccine allocations.
The state expects about 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to arrive over the course of weeks, a DHS spokeswoman said last week, providing a longer timeline than originally expected.
This story will be updated.
Eddie Morales and Alison Dirr of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report