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1,900 Doses Of COVID Vaccine Compromised At VA Medical Center In Jamaica Plain

BOSTON (CBS) – Nearly 2,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were compromised at the VA Medical Center in Jamaica Plain after a freezer failed.

Earlier this week, a contractor accidentally unplugged the freezer while cleaning after a pipe burst and flooded the room where the vaccines were stored. As a result, 1,900 doses of the vaccine were compromised.

"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 WBZ-TV.

VA Vaccine freezer
Rep. Stephen Lynch examines freezer at VA Medical Center in Jamaica Plain after COVID vaccines compromised (Image credit Office of Congressman Stephen F. Lynch)

Kyle Toto, a spokesperson for the VA Boston Healthcare System, told WBZ the vaccines have not been discarded.

Toto said the freezer was in a secure location and had an alarm system installed. An investigation is underway to determine why the monitoring and alarm system did not work.

"Replenishment doses are in process and we do not foresee disruption of our vaccination effort," Toto said.

Dr. Biddinger said proper storage is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the key element in the vaccine and its overall success against the virus.

Rep. Lynch Antoun Houranieh Associate Chief Pharmacist looking at Vaccine Freezers 1
Rep. Lynch and Associate Chief Pharmacist Antoun Houranieh examine vaccine freezers at VA Medical Center in Jamaica Plain (Office of Congressman Stephen F. Lynch)

"The problem is is that messenger RNA, mRNA, is really fragile. People have kind of made the analogy of an M&M that melts really, really quickly."

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

"They went below the temperature that they're allowed to be stored at, so those were lost unfortunately," said Congressman Stephen Lynch. He says he's confident it was accidental, but called in the Inspector General to make sure.

"A 6-inch chiller pipe burst, and it flooded the pharmacy area where the vaccines have been kept. During the clean-up operation, some of the contractor personnel that were doing the abatement accidently pulled the freezer out," said Lynch.

"They had enough at least for me," said veteran Bob Kenney, who was still able to get his scheduled shot Friday. "I hope they can replace it so nobody has to go without."

"We don't need any mistakes," said veteran Paul Hapenny. "That's 1900 doses that won't be out into people's arms."

The freezers on wheels were brought in specifically to store the COVID vaccines. VA Boston Director Dr. Vincent Ng said it did not have a bracket on the plug at the time, but it has now been rewired with one. He also said the alarm on the freezer should have gone off when the temperature dipped, but didn't.

"We are looking into further of why it failed, but what we know is we have re-activated the alarm," Ng said. "We tested it several times, and it does work, so that has been fixed."

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