Approximately 800 Department of Defense employees and members of the military community who received COVID-19 vaccines at Fort George G. Meade on two days this month will likely need to get a third dose after officials discovered some Moderna vaccine vials were improperly stored.
Eighty vials of the vaccine were stored outside of the temperature range recommended by Moderna, which affects the viability, according to a statement released Thursday from Kimbrough Ambulatory Center, the main medical facility at Fort Meade. The doses were administrated on April 7 and April 12.
The vials are distributed through the Department of Defense to the center. The vials arrive in a frozen state and are transferred to Kimbrough’s freezers. When the vials are going to be administered, they typically are removed from the freezer and put into a refrigerator to thaw, said Col. Tracy Michael, commander of Fort Meade’s U.S. Army Medical Department Activity and Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center.
In the case of the 80 compromised vials, they were taken out of the freezer and left out at room temperature for over 24 hours, Michael said. He did not specify how long the vials were left out.
Because of the improper storage, Moderna and the Immunization Health Branch of the Defense Health Agency could not guarantee that the vaccine doses will provide full protection, according to the statement.
Kimbrough staff are contacting those who received the doses that were improperly stored to answer any questions and schedule another shot appointment. There is no known risk of harm from receiving improperly stored doses, according to Kimbrough officials.
Kimbrough staff already has contacted most of the people who received the affected doses, Michael said during a Thursday town hall. There are some people who could not be contacted because of incorrect phone numbers or did not pick up the call.
Those who believe they may have received one of the compromised doses can call the 24-7 hotline at 410-212-4086.
Receiving a third dose is not expected to have an elevated risk and side effects will be similar to that of the second dose, which can include mild ones like localized soreness where the vaccine was injected, general muscle aches and fatigue to more severe symptoms like a fever and chills, Michael said.
Both Pfizer and Moderna are currently studying a third booster shot, Michael said.
The Moderna vaccine is one of the two vaccines currently being administrated in the United States after the Food and Drug Administration paused production of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to rare blood clots that developed in six recipients. The Moderna vaccine requires two doses.
The Moderna vaccine needs to be stored between -58ºF to 5ºF in a freezer or between 36-46ºF if in a refrigerator, for up to 30 days, if the vials are unpunctured. Punctured vials can be stored for 12 hours in a refrigerator as long as the temperature is between 36-77ºF, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The reason for the cold temperature is the fragility of the Messenger RNA, the biological material that provides instructions for cells on what proteins they should make. Both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use mRNA.
The mRNA requires a protective coating, which in the case of Moderna or Pfizer, is a lipid nanoparticle, or a minuscule fat droplet, MIT Technology Review reported. It is those lipid nanoparticles that require such low temperatures to freeze so they do not break down or fuse together.
While Kimbrough is currently administering Moderna vaccines, it will begin switching to Pfizer. The Pfizer vaccine is similar to the Moderna vaccine as both use mRNA. However, the Pfizer vaccine can be given to people 16 and older, whereas the Moderna vaccine cannot be given to anyone younger than 18.
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