VA hospital chief: ‘Accident’ caused nearly 2,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses at Jamaica Plain facility to spoil

BOSTON — Equipment failure led 1,900 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to be compromised and ultimately disposed of, said Vincent Ng, director of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston healthcare system.

Ng said the freezer where the vaccines were stored was accidentally disconnected by a contracted crew cleaning up after a pipe burst in the building.

An alarm on the freezer, which is designed to sound when a temperature abnormality is detected, also failed, he said.

“We have reactivated the alarm. We tested it several times, and it does work. So that has been fixed. But we want to find out what the root cause and is still ongoing,” Ng told reporters outside of the Jamaica Plain facility.

25 Investigates asked the VA hospital chief if the facility was following Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for vaccine storage. He told investigative reported Ted Daniel that proper protocols were in place and reiterated that the wireless alarm on the super cold freezer failed to activate when the unit was accidentally unplugged.

As a result, the power disruption was not discovered until Tuesday. By then, some 1,900 doses of the vaccine inside the freezer had spoiled.

According to a video found on the CDC website, dated 2018, vaccine storage temperatures should be monitored daily so that immediate action can be taken to correct them. The CDC video also covers plugs and power supply.  A clip from that video recommends vaccine providers to “use safety lock plugs or outlet covers to reduce the chance that the units will be unplugged. Post “Do Not Unplug” warning signs at the outlets and on the storage unit doors.”

But a picture provided to reporters by the Jamaica Plain facility shows the plug was not secured to the back of the freezer when it became dislodged by a contracted crew.

“When they pulled out the freezer to clean up behind it there was a lot of rough colored water on the floor at the time,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch.  “When they pulled that freezer out, inadvertently it pulled the plug away from the top of the freezer.”

Lynch met with the hospital’s leaders today to determine what was behind the failure and ensure further waste is prevented.

The plug to the freezer is now secured by screws.

Despite the vaccine loss, director Ng says veterans will continue to receive vaccines as scheduled.

“I just want to reassure the veterans that there’s no disruption of our vaccination effort. If you walk in the right now we are vaccinating patients today.”

The VA say it gets its vaccine from the federal government, not the state supply. Ng added that new doses are one the way to replace what was lost.

“We don’t need any mistakes that’s 1900 doses that won’t be put in people’s arms,” said Paul Hapenny, a Jamaica Plain VA patient.

The VA says it is working with the freezer manufacturer, Thermo Fisher Scientific, to determine why the alarm did not trigger.

Thermo Fisher Scientific told 25 Investigates by email: “We learned about the situation earlier today and are working with the customer to determine the circumstances that led to the vaccines not being able to be used.”

The VA’s inspector general is also conducting a review of what happened.

This is not the first time vaccine has gone to waste.

The state of Michigan lost nearly 12,000 doses to spoilage and Maine says it may have to throw out more than 4,000 doses because of temperature control issues.

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