Grafton Pharmacist Arrested For Coronavirus Vaccine Incident

Karen Pilarski

GRAFTON, WI — A former employee of the Advocate Aurora Health Hospital in Grafton was arrested Thursday afternoon for "tampering with and causing the destruction of 57 vials containing 570 doses of the novel Coronavirus vaccine," according to a news release.

Grafton Police were called to the Advocate Aurora Health Hospital in Grafton on Wednesday, on a report that a former employee of the pharmacy had intentionally removed the vaccines from the refrigerated storage and left them to sit out overnight, rendering about 570 doses of the vaccine “useless” according to health professionals.

The investigation revealed that a former Pharmacist – a resident of Grafton, removed the vials from the refrigerated storage knowing they would not be usable, the release said.

At first the hospital determined the incident to be accidental. However, after receiving additional information, the public safety sector of Aurora Health discovered that the vials were intentionally removed by the pharmacist.

In a written statement to Aurora Health Public Safety Officials, the former employee admitted to intentionally removing the vaccine knowing that if not properly stored the vaccine would be ineffective, the release said.

Grafton Police Detectives noted that the 57 doses of the vaccine were distributed to patients, but according to health officials at Aurora, they indicated there are no health concerns related to the spoiled doses. The doses are effectively “useless.”

Grafton detectives said the man knew the spoiled vaccinations would be useless and that people who received the vaccinations would think they had been vaccinated against the virus when in fact they were not, the release said.

The man faces charges of:

  • First Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety (Class F felony)

  • Adulterating a Prescription Drug (Class H felony)

  • Criminal Damage to Property (Class I felony). H

The man is being held in the Ozaukee County jail. The name of the suspect is being withheld at this time as he hasn't been charged as of Thursday.

Hospital News Conference

Jeff Bahr, president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group, held a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon before the arrest was made public. Bahr said he didn't know the former employee's motive.

Bahr said the former employee removed the vaccines from a refrigerator twice last week more than 500 doses being discarded.

It was not clear how long the vaccine was left out.

"There is no evidence that the individual in question tampered with the vaccine in any way other than removing it from refrigeration, leading to what is known as denaturing the vaccine," he said. "There is no evidence to suggest that this individual tampered with any other vaccine administered at Aurora Medical Center-Grafton."

Early Saturday morning, Bahr said, a pharmacy technician discovered 57 vials of Moderna vaccine outside the refrigerator where they had been stored. The technician put the vials back in the refrigerator and reported the incident to superiors, Bahr said.

Bahr said they became increasingly suspicious of the behavior of the employee. The pharmacist was suspended and admitted Wednesday to intentionally removing the vaccine from the refrigerator, Bahr said.

Bahr said the staff member also admitted to removing and then returning the vaccine to the refrigerator the night before, between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

No vaccinations were administered on Dec. 24 or Dec. 25. Bahr said 57 vaccinations administered on Saturday were either less effective or ineffective.

The 57 people who received vaccines were notified, Bahr said.

“It’s important to note that despite the actions of one individual, the vaccine program here, and across the country, remains safe and critical to getting us out of the pandemic. That has not changed,” Bahr said.

This article originally appeared on the Across Wisconsin Patch