MILWAUKEE — 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.
Each vial contains enough vaccine for 10 vaccinations.
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.
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.
The statement goes on to say the incident is being investigated by the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration as well as Grafton police.
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."
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, according to an earlier statement from Aurora.
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.
At room temperature, the Moderna vaccine can keep for up to 12 hours.
When the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine — which must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures — arrived in Wisconsin in mid-December, state health officials did not disclose the eight regional hubs where they were being stored, citing "security reasons" and 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.
Since then, thousands of doses of the less-fragile Moderna vaccine have been sent to the state. It's not known if most are being stored in employee hospitals and clinics, or in centralized hubs.