MADISON, Wis. — Authorities arrested a suburban Milwaukee pharmacist Thursday suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing them from refrigeration for two nights.
The arrest marks another setback in what has been a slower, messier start to vaccinate Americans than public health officials had expected. Leaders in Wisconsin and other states have been begging the Trump administration for more doses as health care workers and senior citizens line up for the lifesaving vaccine.
Police in Grafton, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) north of Milwaukee, said the Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist was arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property, all felonies. The pharmacist has been fired and police said in a news release that he was in jail. Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged.
His motive remains unclear. 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.
Advocate Aurora Health Care Chief Medical Group Officer Jeff 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 centre 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 vials to access other items in the refrigerator and had inadvertently failed to put them back.
The Moderna vaccine is 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 intentionally over the two nights, Bahr said.
That means that the doses people received Saturday are all but useless, he said. Moderna has told Aurora that there’s no safety concerns, but the hospital system is closely monitoring the people who received the spoiled doses, he said.
Bahr declined to comment on the pharmacist’s motive. He said the hospital system’s security protocols are sound.
“This was a situation involving a bad actor,” he said, “as opposed to a bad process.”
The number of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin has been rising in recent days after dipping in early December. The state Department of Health Services reported 3,810 newly confirmed cases on Thursday, marking the third straight day of rising daily infections. The state has now seen 481,102 cases.
COVID-19 was a factor in 41 more deaths, pushing the state’s overall death toll to 4,859. The survival rate remained unchanged at 99%.
A little more than 47,150 people had been vaccinated in Wisconsin as of Monday morning, according to the latest data from the health agency. The state has been allocated 265,575 doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. As of Monday morning, only about 157,000 doses had arrived.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wrote a letter to President Donald Trump earlier in December asking him to prioritize more doses for Wisconsin due to high case numbers, swamped hospitals and a lack of statewide mitigation mandates.
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Todd Richmond, The Associated Press
Tests identify COVID-19 ‘variant of concern’ at fast-growing Barrie LTC outbreak – Toronto Star
Preliminary testing has confirmed that at least six COVID-19 cases at a Barrie long-term-care home are due to a “variant of concern” of the virus that causes the illness.
The fast-moving outbreak at Roberta Place Long Term Care, which began on Jan. 8, has now spread to most of the building’s 130 residents as well as 69 staff and two visitors. Nineteen people have died so far, and five residents and one staff member are in hospital.
On Wednesday, health officials said testing by the Public Health Ontario laboratory identified a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in six samples. It will be another three or four days before genetic sequencing is complete, at which point health officials will know which variant is present. In recent weeks, experts have warned about the arrival of strains from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil.
“It’s very likely that it’s one of those strains,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, the medical officer of health for the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit. The rapid progression of cases indicates “a very high attack rate,” he said.
All three variants are thought to be more transmissible than the existing virus. The U.K. version, the most-studied so far, has been found about 50 per cent more contagious.
Officials say they don’t know at this point how the outbreak began, or if it’s connected to a visitor.
One visitor had close contact with an individual who had travelled out of country, Gardner said, but not to the U.K., South Africa or Brazil. That close contact is now also a case, he said.
Residents of long-term-care homes are allowed to designate two people as “essential” visitors, typically family members, who may come into the home to help with care. Both confirmed visitor cases are in that category, Gardner said.
Gardner said he’s concerned about the risk of the variant spreading in the community. The speed of the outbreak “speaks to the caution that staff that go into this facility have to exercise with infection control practices,” he said.
“We certainly need to work hard to provide the care needed to the residents and to bring (the outbreak) under control,” said Gardner. “But we also need to exercise caution that it doesn’t spread out into the community as well. Hence the importance of the infection control that’s practised by everyone who goes into the facility.”
Patients from the home have been admitted to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie, and Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital has provided a director to manage the outbreak.
The home is also set to receive help from the Canadian Red Cross this week and the corporation that manages the home, Jarlette Health Services, has redirected staff to the facility, Gardner said.
In a statement, Ontario Minister of Long Term Care, Merrilee Fullerton said the outbreak underscored the need for people to stay home to stop the spread of the virus.
“It is also a stark reminder of the need for greater vigilance at our borders with incoming travellers,” she said.
Fullerton is not the only politician worried about incoming cases of COVID from other countries.
On Monday, Quebec Premier François Legault demanded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ban all non-essential travel into and out of the country because of vaccine delays and rising case counts.
The federal government has said it is keeping a close watch on variants from other countries and Trudeau has hinted that Ottawa “can impose new restrictions without advance notice at any time” on travellers, the Canadian Press reported.
The UK variant, referred to as B.117, was first identified in December. Genetic sequencing showed that it was responsible for cases as early as September, before quickly becoming the dominant strain in that country.
Last week, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said the risk of the U.K. variant was a driving factor behind the province’s new stay-at-home order.
COVID-19 variant identified at Barrie, Ont., long-term care home where 19 residents have died – CTV Toronto
BARRIE, ONT. —
A COVID-19 variant has been identified in six swab tests done at Roberta Place in Barrie, Ont., where an outbreak has claimed at least 19 lives.
Since the health unit declared an outbreak at the long-term facility, cases have exploded, with 122 residents, 69 staff, and two visitors testing positive for COVID-19.
Nineteen residents have now died after becoming infected.
“The impact of this outbreak on the facility has been tragic, and these interim results of a variant are extremely concerning for everyone,” says Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
Gardner says the virus spread so rapidly the health unit was immediately concerned about a possible variant. It’s not known how the new strain got into the seniors’ home.
“Usually, we never do find out for sure,” Gardner says contact tracing is challenging. He says one staffer was in contact with a person who travelled out of the country and tested positive for COVID-19 but says it’s unknown if that was the source.
Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital took the lead on containing the outbreak after Gardner issued the order on Saturday.
“The health unit, Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, and Roberta Place, as well as our partners including the Red Cross, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, community physicians, are all working together to contain the spread of the virus and protect residents and staff,” Gardner adds.
The health unit says it is testing to find out what strain of COVID-19 they are dealing with using a two-part test.
The first part of the test indicated “a very high probability that they are of a variant strain of concern.” The second portion of the test is a whole-genome sequencing that determines the exact strain.
Gardner says the concern goes beyond Roberta Place. “This institution, like any, is part of the community,” he says. “There is potential for it to spread to the community.”
“We know from research that it [the strain] is more communicable,” Gardner says.
Meanwhile, a mobile vaccine clinic administered the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to residents who were able and willing.
“We understand that these are very unprecedented and challenging times for the families, residents and staff of Roberta Place, and we appreciate the concern of all involved as we get more information on the variant in the coming days,” said Dr. Gardner.
The results from the genome testing are expected in three to four days.
B.C. records 500 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 more deaths – CBC.ca
B.C. health officials announced 500 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 more deaths on Wednesday.
In a written statement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix put the number of hospitalized patients at 320 people, 66 of whom are in intensive care.
Hospitalizations are at their lowest level since Nov. 30, though the 14 deaths represent the second highest total recorded in January.
A total of 1,104 people in B.C. have lost their lives due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
There are currently 4,345 active cases of coronavirus in the province, with public health monitoring 6,905 people across the province who are in self-isolation due to COVID-19 exposure. More than 55,564 people who tested positive have recovered.
B.C. recorded two new outbreaks in health-care facilities at Villa Cathay in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and Acropolis Manor in the Northern Health Authority.
There is one new community outbreak at the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre.
Outbreaks at Guildford Seniors Village and Maple Ridge Seniors Village in the Fraser Health authority, as well as Mountainview Village and Village by the Station in the Interior Health authority have been declared over.
So far, 98,125 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C.
The province has had to adjust its vaccination plan in response to news that Pfizer-BioNTech isn’t sending any doses of its vaccine to Canada next week, leaving B.C. with a shortfall of 5,800 doses.
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