Michigan gets damaged doses of COVID-19 vaccine; replacements on way

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Nearly 12,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine headed to Michigan are being replaced after temperature issues damaged them during shipping, state health officials said Tuesday.

McKesson Corp., which has been distributing vaccines, alerted the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that the shipments transported Sunday "had their temperature reported as going out of range and getting too cold," representatives said in a statement. "Each vaccine shipment is equipped with a temperature monitoring device used to monitor the vaccine temperature while in transport."

Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss., Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020.

There were 11,900 doses in the shipments, state health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said in a Tuesday email. 

"McKesson is working quickly to repack additional vaccine to ship out as replacement doses for those that may be compromised, and the majority of the 21 shipments were resent on Monday night with the rest being sent Tuesday," the health department said in a statement.

Reached Tuesday, David Matthews, a representative for McKesson, said the company "identified the root cause of the issue — some of the gel packs used to maintain appropriate temperatures during shipping were found to be too cold — and have taken steps to prevent this from occurring in the future." 

McKesson has "also proactively reviewed doses that were slated for shipment on Monday, Jan. 18, and determined that a small percentage of those shipments were also impacted by the gel pack issue," Matthews said.

"McKesson did not ship those doses and is replacing them within the next 24 hours. McKesson worked directly with the CDC to notify each state awardee that was expecting a shipment about the delay."

Sutfin said the replacement vaccines were expected to arrive this week.

“We are committed to accelerating vaccine delivery as we work to reach our goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders over age 16 as quickly as possible with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive and chief deputy for health.

“Although it is unfortunate that this vaccine will not be able to be used, we are pleased that the safeguards put into place to ensure the integrity of the vaccine worked. 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.”

The news comes as the state reports receiving only 258,100 vaccine doses from the federal government to allocate after requests for 444,306, health officials told The News.

The Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System and the Wayne County health department are delaying some COVID-19 vaccinations due to a vaccine shortage. Both reported receiving fewer doses of vaccine this week than expected.

Officials expected Michigan to receive nearly double the doses anticipated for this week after the federal government informed health officials last week that it would release an additional 60,000 doses of Moderna vaccine to the state. Those doses had been held in reserve for CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate residents in long-term care facilities.  

Also last week, the federal government informed states it would release a stockpile of vaccine that was held in reserve to provide second doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. But federal officials later said that the stockpile was exhausted and states shouldn't expect a windfall, the Washington Post first reported.

Detroit received 6,000 doses this week but had hoped for 9,000 to 10,000, Mayor Mike Duggan said Tuesday. The city also anticipated receiving Pfizer's vaccine but instead received Moderna's.

The differences between the two vaccines are the time between the first and second doses are administered and the freezer temperature they have to be stored at. The Pfizer vaccine requires a second dosage three weeks later, Moderna requires the second shot four weeks later.