In a press release issued Wednesday night, Aurora Health said an employee at its Grifton, Wisconsin, clinic voluntarily removed hundreds of vaccine doses from refrigeration and was fired for doing so.
Over the weekend, Aurora initially said the incident was a matter of human error, but it issued a new statement after an internal investigation.
The Grafton Police Department issued a statement late Wednesday night confirming that the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration were assisting with its investigation into the employee.
The Moderna vaccine vials can stay at room temperature for up to 12 hours and must be stored at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
An employee at the Aurora Medical Center-Grafton in Wisconsin removed 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine from a clinic refrigerator "intentionally" and did not return them, the company said, forcing it to discard at least 500 doses.
In a press release issued Wednesday, the healthcare provider said an employee voluntarily removed the vaccines from the fridge and was fired for doing so. On Thursday it was announced that the individual in question had been arrested.
Over the weekend, Aurora initially said the incident was a matter of "human error."
"We learned that about 50 vials of Moderna vaccine were inadvertently removed from a pharmacy refrigerator overnight," a representative told WTMJ-TV on Monday. "While some of the vaccine was administered to team members on Dec. 26 within the approved 12-hour post-refrigeration window, unfortunately, most of it had to be discarded due to the temperature storage requirements necessary to maintain its viability."
But by Wednesday evening, Aurora released a statement saying an internal investigation determined that the employee intentionally removed the vaccine vials and did not return them.
The incident resulted in more than 500 doses of the vaccine being discarded, Aurora Health added.
"We immediately launched an internal review and were led to believe this was caused by inadvertent human error. The individual in question today acknowledged that they intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration," Aurora's Wednesday statement said. "We have notified appropriate authorities for further investigation. 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."
The Moderna vaccine vials can stay at room temperature for up to 12 hours but must be stored at between 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
Aurora Health Care added that more than 21,000 healthcare workers had received their first of two Moderna injections from the hospital system.
The Grafton Police Department issued a statement late Wednesday night saying that the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration were assisting with their investigation into the employee.
When reached by Business Insider for comment, an Aurora Health Care representative said more details would be shared Thursday.
At a news conference Thursday, Dr. Jeff Bahr, president of Aurora Health Care Medical Group, said that the individual had been arrested and provided an update on the investigation.
"We became increasingly suspicious of the behavior of the individual in question," Bahr said. "The individual was suspended and after multiple interviews over the course of the week admitted to removing the vaccine from refrigeration."
During an internal investigation, Bahr said the pharmacist admitted to taking the vaccine out from the refrigerator two times, between December 24 and Christmas Day.
Bahr added that 57 people were vaccinated on Dec. 26, but because the vaccine was left out of clinic refrigerators for hours, on purpose, it was spoiled and likely less effective.
"The 57 recipients of those vaccinations were notified," Bahr said. "At this time there is no evidence that the vaccinations pose any harm to them." Bahr declined to offer any more information on the pharmacist's motive.
The pharmacist, who was not named during the conference, is currently being held in the Ozaukee County Jail. After Thursday's arrest, Grafton Police recommended felony charges including reckless endangerment of safety, adulterating a prescription drug, and criminal damage.
"Grafton detectives indicate that the individual 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," Grafton Police said in a statement released Thursday.
Police also estimated that the value of the spoiled Moderna vaccine doses to be between $8,000 and $11,000, and added that the FBI and FDA are still looking into the matter.
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