PURDY, Wash. — Burglars broke into a Purdy dental office and made off with 100 vials of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Now experts are worried about the vaccines getting in the wrong hands.
“My big concern is if it isn’t kept at the correct temperature,” said Steve Fijalka, the interim chief pharmacy officer at UW Medicine.
He’s in charge of managing the precious COVID-19 vaccines during this pandemic.
Though the Johnson & Johnson shots don’t have to be kept ultra-cold like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, they still need refrigeration.
“Once it’s at room temperature, if the vial’s not punctured, it’s good for 12 hours at room temp. Once you start puncturing the vial, it’s only good for two hours,” he said.
It’s still a mystery why thieves broke into the North Harbor Dentistry Office in Purdy where they stole the J&J vaccines and other items. Burglars also hit a hair salon in Purdy at around the same time. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office is trying to figure out if the same suspects are behind both crimes.
“So depending how they keep the vaccine and how they store it, there are definitely stability and sterility issues around the vaccine,” Fijalka added.
There are also real health risks if you get one of these shots that weren’t stored correctly or were used after they’re expired.
“You risk having infection, especially at the site of injection. You can have abscesses where it’s been injected or worse case — you can get major infection throughout your body,” he said.
The vaccine also won’t be effective, which endangers not only the person who got the shot but also others.
“It may no longer be good and get the same antibody response, and so you have individuals out there thinking they’re safely vaccinated when they really may not be,” Fijalka said.
Fijalka said this is a reminder for folks to get their vaccines at a legitimate place like a reputable pharmacy, medical office, or through a local or state vaccination clinic.