Nearly 1,400 vaccines lost after fridge door left unsealed

WAILUKU, Maui — A hospital on Maui had to throw out nearly 1,400 vaccine doses after a refrigerator thawing the vials did not properly seal.

A low-temperature refrigerator holding doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Maui Memorial Medical Center was not closed properly, and the vaccines were compromised over the weekend, The Maui News reported Wednesday.

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Officials at the hospital, operated by Maui Health, said enough supply remains to keep all current vaccination appointments.

Vaccines are locked in a freezer before being transferred to the low-temperature refrigerator to be thawed. The doses were put in the refrigerator on Friday in preparation for this week’s vaccinations, and staff members discovered the door was not sealed on Monday morning.

“Unfortunately this happened on Friday,” Maui Health spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda said. “We don’t have a clinic on Saturday and Sunday, so when they came in first thing Monday morning they saw it.”

There was a mechanical malfunction, and the mistake was not a staff error, Dallarda said. The door was tested again after the discovery, and it wouldn’t stay closed, she said.

Maui Health said in a statement that Pfizer was contacted and the vials were removed from use and discarded.

The cooling unit will be repaired and vaccines will be stored elsewhere, hospital officials said. When doses need to be thawed in the future, they will go to the hospital’s pharmacy refrigerator where an alarm will notify a 24-hour employee if the temperatures drop, Dallarda added.

“There’s constant surveillance so we don’t ever have this issue again,” she said.

A total of 2,400 doses have been lost since Hawaii began vaccinations in December, state Department of Health spokesman Brooks Baehr said. That includes the 1,386 doses over the weekend and 1,014 doses in other separate incidents.

“The vast majority, or 881, of those 1,014 doses were lost when a vial or syringe was broken,” Baehr said. “Other doses were not administered after a vial had been opened or vaccine had been drawn into a syringe but not administered.”

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“Fewer than two doses per 1,000 vaccines administered had been lost prior to this unfortunate incident on Maui,” Baehr said.

When asked if the Department of Health investigated the incident and whether it was caused by human error or mechanical malfunction, Baehr said “the only information I have about how this happened is what Maui Health has said in its press release.”

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