Wisconsin pharmacist awaiting charges for deliberately spoiling COVID-19 vaccine, officials say

MILWAUKEE -- The Wisconsin pharmacist accused of intentionally sabotaging more than 500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine remained in a county jail over the weekend, awaiting formal charges, as questions remain about his motive and access to the vaccine.

"It's become clear this was a situation involving a bad actor instead of a bad process," said Dr. Jeff Bahr, president of the Aurora Healthcare Medical Group.

It's unclear what if any changes healthcare systems like Advocate Aurora will make, but officials say both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are thoroughly documented.

State health officials told WISN any incident involving wasted doses must be reported and investigated.

Still, there's a growing call for transparency on the vaccine rollout itself.

"I think there's an opportunity for improved transparency. We're looking at 50 states rolling this out together at the same time," said U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin.

Steil and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers before the Grafton incident, asking for more details about the state's plan.

In Grafton, the FBI is also involved.

RELATED: Nearly 500 Moderna COVID vaccine doses discarded in Grafton, Wisconsin

State health officials said they're continually working to improve the system, in what's been described as the largest public health undertaking in generations.

Neither state health officials nor the governor have publicly answered questions since the incident as formal charges are now pending.

Authorities arrested a suburban Milwaukee pharmacist Thursday suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of coronavirus 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. Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged.

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.

RELATED: 'We need more vaccine': Coronavirus vaccine progress falls short as health officials wait for more shipments

Bahr told reporters during a teleconference Thursday afternoon that the pharmacist deliberately removed 57 vials that held hundreds of doses of the Moderna vaccine from refrigeration at a Grafton medical center overnight on Dec. 24 into Dec. 25, returned them, then left them out again on the night of Dec. 25 into Saturday. The vials contained enough doses to inoculate 570 people.

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 into Dec. 25, returned it to the refrigerator at some point and then removed it again overnight Dec. 25 to Dec. 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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