Saline Injected Instead of COVID Vaccine in South Carolina

A small number of people have been injected with saline rather than a COVID vaccine in South Carolina, according to the state's health department.

Local news outlet WCSC became aware of the cases after an unnamed viewer reported the pharmacy where she received her second Pfizer shot asked her to come back days later. It told her the vaccine she received was "not activated." The outlet contacted the pharmacy in the town of Summerville to see how many people were affected, but had not heard back.

Laura Renwick, spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), told Newsweek: "DHEC has received a very limited number of reports of 'diluent only' administrations since December 2020.

"In each case that DHEC has become aware of, the provider has addressed this on an individual level with each recipient to appropriately re-administer vaccine."

To prepare the Pfizer COVID vaccine, a vial of what is known as a diluent and a vial of vaccine are mixed, before it is injected into the patient using a syringe, according to a CDC fact sheet. The diluent is listed as "0.9% sodium chloride (normal saline, preservative-free)."

Saline usually comes in the form of water containing 0.9 percent salt (also known as sodium chloride). It has a number of medical uses from cleaning contact lenses to irrigating a catheter, as the concentration of salt is antibacterial.

Renwick said there would be no adverse effects from being injected with the saline.

The unnamed woman told WCSC she was frustrated that she would need to wait longer before she was fully protected due to the error. According to the CDC, it generally takes two weeks after a person is fully vaccinated to be protected against the virus that causes COVID. In the case of Pfizer recipients, that is after their second shot.

Over 324 million COVID vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S., according to the CDC. In South Carolina, residents have received more than 3.7 million COVID vaccine doses, SCDHEC data showed.

In addition to the cases in South Carolina, a handful of reports have emerged of people being injected with saline solution instead of the COVID vaccine.

In April, Walgreens confirmed that a "limited number" of people were given saline injections instead of COVID vaccines at a store in Monroe, and were later given a vaccine shot. That same month, a COVID vaccine clinic in Canada apologized after it injected six people with saline.

This article has been updated with comment from Laura Renwick.

pfizer covid vaccine
A nurse in Italy, unrelated to the cases in South Carolina, prepares a Pfizer vaccine syringe. Pfizer vaccines are prepared using saline. Vincenzo Izzo/LightRocket via Getty Images