Ohio Vaccine Distributor Suspended After Mishandling More Than Half of Its COVID Doses

Vaccine rollouts across the nation are underway as President Joe Biden begins his efforts to immunize 100 million Americans in his first 100 days of office. But the plan may face delays after a series of distribution mishaps, including the improper storage of nearly 900 doses in Columbus, Ohio.

In a Wednesday press release, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) announced that provider SpecialityRX has been suspended after the company mishandled 890 doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.

The unusable vials make up more than half of the 1,500 doses the company received. SpecialityRX, which is not part of the federal Long-Term Care Pharmacy partnership program, was supposed to administer the vaccines to residents at eight long-term care facilities before January 1.

However, after administering the first doses, the remaining ones sat in the provider's refrigerator and freezer, which were not monitored regularly for vaccine viability.

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, the Moderna vaccine needs to be stored in a freezer between minus 25 degrees Celsius and minus 15 degrees Celsius or in the refrigerator between 2 degrees Celsius and 8 degrees Celsius for up to 30 days before use. Thawed vaccines cannot be refrozen.

"The company was exploring a transfer of the doses to another provider when it was discovered that they had failed to appropriately monitor temperatures in their refrigerator and freezer," the ODH said in the release.

The state health department's immunization program launched an investigation after learning of the failure of temperature monitoring and determined that more than half of the doses SpecialityRX received were not viable.

The department said it has immediately halted any future allocation to the provider and the company has been instructed to not administer or transfer any of the affected doses.

Moderna Vaccine
Luther Brown receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Louisville Urban League on January 20, in Louisville, Kentucky. In Ohio,, nearly 900 doses of the Moderna vaccine were determined unusable due to improper storage by the provider. Jon Cherry/Stringer

"The first doses of the Moderna vaccine that were administered to the residents and staff of the long-term care facilities were viable. For the second dose, the long term care facilities will have to coordinate with another provider which will likely be the local health department," the ODH said.

Because the first doses were already administered, the long-term care facilities will now face a new challenge as they race to find a different provider to deliver the second dose on time.

The Food and Drug Administration said in a statement on January 4 that the second dose of the Moderna vaccine must be administered 28 days after the first dose, which means affected parties will need to secure a coveted dose of the vaccine in less than a month.

Ohio is among a number of Midwest states that are experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases, which began shortly after Thanksgiving. As of January 20, the state has reported more than 842,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 10,000 deaths, according to the ODH.

The suspension of SpecialityRX is the latest in a series of several state and local setbacks related to distribution efforts.

Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would reschedule 23,000 vaccination appointments due to supply issues. De Blasio said he is hopeful that the Biden administration will be able to expand supply through the Defense Production Act, which the new president has promised to include in his national COVID-19 strategy.

Newsweek reached out to SpecialityRX for comment but did not hear back before publication.