A health care worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine
Update, January 28, 2021: The health department said it had gotten the go-ahead from Moderna that the doses were still effective and usable, and reversed the decision to discard them. Read more on that decision here.
The State of Vermont will discard 860 doses of COVID-19 vaccine — nearly 1 percent of all doses received to date — because of a storage issue at Springfield Hospital, officials said Wednesday.
The doses of Moderna vaccine were apparently stored slightly above than the maximum allowable temperature, prompting the manufacturer to order that they be tossed due to concern about their viability, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said during a regularly scheduled press conference.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Moderna vaccine vials must be refrigerated at temperatures between 2 degrees and 8 degrees Celsius.
"It was at 9 degrees at Springfield Hospital," Smith said.
"I don't have all the details," he continued, appearing to read a statement sent to him minutes earlier via text message. "This is unfortunate because we've had minimal — I mean minimal — wasted doses in this state."
Vermont had lost fewer than 30 vaccine doses as of last week, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said. The newly revealed spoilage represents a much more significant chunk.
The spoilage announcement was apparently news to Springfield Hospital officials, who were awaiting guidance from the Vermont Department of Health when Smith revealed that the doses would need to be discarded.
Anna Smith, the hospital's vice president of marketing and development, told Seven Days that the hospital's pharmacy had called the health department late Tuesday to confirm the temperature readings, which led to the discovery of a "discrepancy."
"Our equipment said it was within range, but the equipment that was recording it at the state level was reading something different," she said.
State officials called Springfield on Wednesday morning and told them to cancel a vaccination clinic that was scheduled to begin in 30 minutes, Smith said. She could not confirm who had been set to receive shots. Vermont opened vaccination clinics for those 75 and older on Wednesday.
The doses had not yet been discarded as of noon. "We're waiting to hear from [the health department] right now," Smith said, minutes after the press conference announcement.
Shortly after 1 p.m., the hospital issued a statement saying it had canceled the clinic "out of an abundance of caution" because of the discrepancy in the temperature readings.
"Two hospital monitors recorded the temperature within an acceptable range, and the State of Vermont monitor recorded .1 degree above the range," the statement said.
Levine said the state has "exquisite" sensors on refrigeration equipment to identify any problems. "In any kind of large vaccination program, these things happen," he said.
Levine said the state was putting together plans to make sure the affected individuals' vaccinations are rescheduled quickly. About 400 of wasted doses were set to be used as second shots in Moderna's two-dose vaccination regimen.
Nearly 900 doses have been wasted out of 96,825 the state has received. "That's still not a high percentage," Levine said.