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After freezer incident spoils nearly 2,000 vaccine doses, Congressman Lynch visits the VA in Jamaica Plain

Congressman Stephen Lynch
Congressman Stephen LynchPool

Congressman Stephen F. Lynch toured the Jamaica Plain VA Medical Center Friday, one day after officials there confirmed nearly 2,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were spoiled earlier this week when a cleaning contractor accidentally loosened an electric plug on a freezer.

A spokesperson for Lynch sent photos of the lawmaker inspecting the freezer in question.

Lynch spoke outside the VA facility, telling reporters he’s asked the agency’s inspector general to conduct a walk-though of the medical center, which he’ll try to join when it occurs.

“But what happened here is that we had a pipe burst, a 6-inch chiller pipe burst,” Lynch told reporters, according to footage posted to the WBZ-TV website. “And it flooded the pharmacy area where the vaccines have been kept. During that cleanup operation, some of the contractor personnel that were doing the abatement accidentally pulled the freezer out.”

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The freezers, Lynch continued, “are rather large. ... They’re on rollers, however. They’re brand new, state-of-the-art, and when they pulled out the freezer to clean up behind it — and there was a lot of rust-colored water on the floor at the time — when they pulled that freezer out, inadvertently it pulled the plug away from the top of the freezer.”

That, Lynch said, allowed the temperature to drop “so the vaccines that were in there at the time, about 1,900 doses, were compromised.”

Since the miscue, Lynch said, VA engineers have come through the facility and rewired the freezers so a similar issue doesn’t arise again.

“However, again,” he said, “I’d like to wait for the final word from the inspector general for the VA, to make sure that we’ve crossed all our t’s and dotted all our i’s and we have everything in a good situation.”

Lynch’s explanation tracks with what the VA told the Globe Thursday, when Kyle Toto, a spokesman for the VA Boston Healthcare System, said staff at the VA Boston Pharmacy found Tuesday that the freezer had failed and 1,900 doses of the vaccine stored inside had been compromised.

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“The freezer was in a secure location and had an alarm system installed,” Toto said Thursday in an e-mail. “The plug was found loose after a contractor accidentally removed it while cleaning. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the incident and why the monitoring and alarm system did not work as expected.”

Replacement doses are on their way, and the VA does not expect its vaccination effort to be disrupted, Toto said.

The vaccine rollout has been plagued with issues in Massachusetts and across the country.

On Thursday, the Biden administration announced a broad new front to combat the coronavirus, including better coordination of vaccine distribution. President Biden proposed an increase in the production of vaccines, ending the policy of holding back large numbers of doses and encouraging states to expand access to frontline essential workers and people over the age of 65.

In late December, Wisconsin officials said a pharmacist at a suburban Milwaukee medical center deliberately removed hundreds of coronavirus vaccine doses from refrigeration and left them out overnight. The pharmacist was fired and later arrested.

Lynch told reporters Friday nothing sinister appears to be afoot at the Jamaica Plain VA.

“ We believe it was simply an accident,” he said.

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Just days ago, California’s state epidemiologist recommended that the state pause the distribution of more than 330,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine after a “higher than usual” number of people showed signs of a possible severe allergic reaction.

Two days later, health officials in Maine and Michigan said more than 16,000 doses spoiled because of temperature control problems during delivery and would probably have to be disposed of.

And on Wednesday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was rescheduling 23,000 vaccine appointments because of a supply shortage. He said Moderna and Texas-based distributor McKesson Corp. had told city officials that 103,000 doses expected to arrive Tuesday will be delayed for a couple of days, according to Bloomberg News.

Vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech were cleared for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration last month and rely on new technology called messenger RNA. They were a remarkable 95 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 in large late-stage studies.

Both vaccines must be kept at super-cold temperatures during delivery. The Moderna vaccine must be stored between minus 13 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In both the Maine and Michigan episodes, the shipments got too cold.

Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report, and material from the Associated Press was used.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.