Over 68,000 covid vaccine doses destroyed by heat

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Health Board logo.
Health Board logo. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

More than 68,000 doses of AstraZeneca's Vaxzevria COVID-19 vaccine have been destroyed due to rising temperatures in a Health Board cold storage unit. In total, more than 100,000 doses of vaccines and other medicines have been ruined.

The vaccines were due to be donated to other countries and were being stored in a warehouse. In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine, other vaccines and medicinal products were stored in the unit. The medicines were being stored in one of several cold stores used by the Health Board.

At least 100,000 doses of vaccines and other drugs are known to be unusable, the Health Board said on Tuesday. The exact extent of the property damage is being clarified.

So far it is known that €1.15 million worth of damage has been caused but there were up to €3 million worth of vaccines and drugs in the warehouses.

The Health Board and Riigi Kinnisvara AS, which manages the state's property portfolio, have started an investigation to clarify the circumstances. An independent assessment will also be made by a commission set up by the Secretary of State, which involves all the parties involved.

What is known so far, is that during Midsummer week (June 21-27) the temperature in the storage room rose to 15 degrees Celsius. This is much higher than medicines are usually stored at, which is between 2-8 degrees.

Although the duplicated notification system should have sent an automatic alert when the temperature started to rise, this did not happen and an employee discovered the higher temperature when they checked the facility. The temperature in two rooms started to rise on June 22 and was discovered on June 25. Due to midsummer and national holidays, employees were not at work between the two dates.

"For some unknown reason, the notification systems of both institutions did not work. Neither the Health Board nor the Riigi Kinnisvara AS received a notification that the system was not working as usual," Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said at a press conference on Tuesday. 

After the technician inspected the system on June 25 and the temperature returned to normal in the warehouses, the temperature began to rise again on the night of June 26. This time, however, the system sent an alarm and the situation was fixed. The temperature had risen to 9 degrees.

Kiik said vaccination against COVID-19 will continue as planned in Estonia, as doses are mostly stored at health care institutions. However, some medicines used on maternity wards may run low, as they were also being stored in the warehouses.

Kiik also proposed that Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop form a commission to clarify the details of the incident.

Deputy Director General of the Health Board Mari-Anne Härma said several unfavorable circumstances coincided, which led to the ruined vaccines. 

"We will definitely review the internal procedures of the health board and improve the monitoring of temperature readings in the central warehouse. We will ensure that all vaccines and other medicines that reach people are of high quality and safe," she said.

Chairman of the Management Board Riigi Kinnisvara Kati Kusmin said: "Firstly, the temperature was higher in Estonia for a longer period than usual, which put a greater than usual load on the cooling systems. Secondly, duplicate automatic notification systems failed. Such cases are unacceptable and we will work with the Health Board to find out what led to this and work to prevent such situations in the future."

Last week, several days broke heat records and the temperature was above 30 degrees on several days.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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