1,900 COVID vaccine doses ruined at Boston VA hospital after freezer accidentally unplugged

Nearly 2,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were spoiled at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Boston after a contractor accidentally unplugged a freezer, hospital officials announced Thursday. Staff at the Jamaica Plain VA Medical Center discovered on Tuesday that a freezer had failed, compromising 1,900 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

The plug to the freezer was found to be loose after a contractor accidentally unplugged it while cleaning, according to a statement from Kyle Toto, a spokesman for VA Boston Healthcare System. The freezer had been in a safe location and had an alarm system, he said.

Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines require extremely cold temperatures for storage.  

“For the Moderna vaccine it’s 12 hours. Once it’s been at room temperature for longer than that you no longer can assure that it’s effective and so you can’t give the vaccine,” Dr. Paul Biddinger, the Medical Director for Emergency Preparedness at Mass General Brigham, told CBS Boston.

The system is investigating the cause of the incident and why the monitoring alarm system did not work. More doses are on the way, Toto said, and officials “do not foresee disruption” of the system’s vaccination effort.

Temperature issues have caused problems for vaccine rollouts in other states.

Nearly 12,000 Moderna doses that were being shipped to Michigan on Sunday were spoiled after getting too cold. In Wisconsin, a pharmacist faces charges after authorities say he deliberately ruined hundreds of doses by removing them from refrigeration for two nights.

The Moderna vaccine needs to be stored at regular freezer temperatures, but not the ultra-cold required for Pfizer-BioNTech’s shot.

CBS Boston reports Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch said the doses have been moved to Brockton and West Roxbury while the cleanup operation is still ongoing.

“We simply believe it was an accident,” Lynch told reporters Friday. “Part of the contributing factor was the way these plugs operate. One of them is an offset, so it’s very difficult to pull out. But the one at the top of the freezer was a direct pull so the engineering staff here have corrected that. They’ve created a bracket, they’ve taken pictures of that plug and sent it around to all the other VA hospitals that have this thermo-scientific freezer so that in the event that might happen somewhere else.”

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