Thousands of COVID-19 Vaccines Ruined During Shipping

Carolyn Crist

January 20, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

More than 16,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine were compromised this week while en route to states, either because the temperatures were too cold or too hot to maintain vaccine integrity.

Michigan officials announced that 11,900 doses among 21 shipments were unusable after the temperature used to store the vaccine became too cold, according to Click On Detroit, an NBC News affiliate.

McKesson Corp., the distributor, informed Michigan officials that the temperature shifted out of range during shipping. Moderna's vaccine must be stored between -25°C and -15°C (-13°F and 5°F).

"This is the first report of vaccine potentially being compromised during shipment in Michigan, and we are working quickly with the distributor to have replacement vaccine shipped out," Joneigh Kaldhun, MD, the state's chief medical executive, told Click On Detroit in a statement.

McKesson identified the underlying cause and has taken steps to prevent issues in the future, the news outlet reported. Some of the gel packs that are used to maintain the correct temperatures during shipping were too cold.

The majority of the 21 shipments were resent Monday night, Michigan officials said, though six shipments were held back to check for safety.

"That frustrates me when I know we are in a race and every vaccine matters, but that is not something I can control," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a news briefing on Tuesday.

"I'm certain that people who had appointments, who were scheduled at facilities that were supposed to get those particular shots, were frustrated they weren't able to get them," she said.

In Maine, about 4,400 doses were deemed unusable after shipments were too warm and exceeded the temperature required for safe storage, according to News Center Maine, an NBC News affiliate. The doses are being replaced, with new shipments being delivered this week.

"This news is concerning, but it's important to note that this is how the system works," Nirav Shah, MD, director of the Maine CDC, said during a news briefing on Tuesday.

"Our numerous checks along the way ensure that when a vaccine arrives, it is both safe and effective as well as viable," he said. "And that if at any point in that journey a vaccine — from the site of the manufacturer to someone's arm here in Maine — the shipping, handling, and carrying conditions are not optimum, that there are processes in place so that we know that the vaccine is not given to somebody."

The shipping boxes have several tracking and temperature monitoring tools, Shah said. When vaccine sites see that the electronic device has a red "X," they know the temperature has been compromised and that they shouldn't use the doses.

The CDC, Operation Warp Speed and Moderna have been notified and are investigating the shipments to understand what happened and prevent future issues, Shah said.

Sources

Click On Detroit, "Nearly 12K doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine ruined en route to Michigan, state officials say."

News Center Maine, "Maine CDC: 4,400 Moderna vaccine doses compromised; US CDC, Operation Warp Speed investigating

Maine Public Television, "Maine CDC Briefing, January 19, 2021."

CDC.gov: "How to Store the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine"

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