Ketchikan’s first COVID-19 vaccine shipment was too warm and spoiled, officials say

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 doses contained in this box were too warm when they arrived in Ketchikan on Wednesday, officials say. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Ketchikan’s first batch of the COVID-19 vaccine was spoiled and couldn’t be used.

Pandemic response officials said Friday that the 20 doses that arrived amid fanfare at Ketchikan’s airport on Wednesday were too warm and had to be discarded. The batch was intended for public health staff and emergency medical services personnel. But officials said nobody received an injection.

A fresh batch is expected this weekend at the latest.

Kacie Paxton, Ketchikan’s emergency operation center spokesperson, wrote in a statement that larger communities like Juneau and Anchorage receive a large container directly from drugmaker Pfizer. Ketchikan’s doses were transferred into a smaller package and sent by air freight to the community.

“The details of the shipment and process have been documented, and improvements are being applied to the next shipment,” she wrote in an email.

The state health department did not immediately respond to questions about what happened that allowed the vaccines to spoil, or what would be done to prevent it in the future.

Meanwhile, some nursing home residents are expected to begin receiving doses of the vaccine. Paxton said Ketchikan’s Island Pharmacy received a shipment earmarked for an unnamed assisted living home.

Paxton said the pharmacists were the first people in Ketchikan to be vaccinated.

Vaccinations were scheduled to begin soon at the eldercare facility. State public health officials also announced Friday that residents and staff at state-run Pioneer Homes were getting their first doses of the vaccine.

PeaceHealth, the nonprofit that runs Ketchikan’s city-owned hospital, plans to receive its own 100-dose shipment of COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. A spokesperson for the Washington state-based health care provider said they’ll start vaccinating front-line medical workers on Tuesday.

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has to be kept at extremely cold temperatures for long-term storage.  According to the manufacturer, it only lasts for up to five days at refrigerator temperatures. That creates logistical challenges in distributing the vaccine outside of major metropolitan areas.

This is a developing story.

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