British Columbia’s Fraser Health Authority says it has stopped a pharmacy from administering COVID-19 vaccines after learning syringes were reused on patients.
“We were made aware of an incident involving an infection prevention and control lapse that occurred during COVID-19 immunizations where syringes [the plastic tube that holds the vaccine solution, not the needle] were reused at a pharmacy in one of our communities,” the health authority said in a statement to CBC News.
Fraser Health did not name the pharmacy it had suspended or how many patients were given a COVID-19 vaccine with a reused syringe.
It said the pharmacy was part of a provincial pilot program in which residents use a provincial booking system to be vaccinated at the pharmacy.
Corinn Jockisch said she went for her second COVID-19 vaccine dose at the Ultracare Guardian Pharmacy in New Westminster, east of Vancouver, on Aug. 25. This week, she received a letter from Fraser Health asking her to call a public health nurse.
Jockisch, 35, was then told that the pharmacy had reused syringes and that she could be at risk of contracting illnesses such as Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and HIV as a result.
“I was just taken aback first and you go through shock of course because you are just not sure what that really means and how serious is it. I got upset. I was just really upset.”
She now has to have a set of blood tests over the next months to rule out any infection from the mishap.
“It’s just really inexcusable and I can’t understand why,” she said.
Fraser Health said the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia is investigating, and said the pharmacist involved is not currently administering vaccinations.
“We take any control lapse very seriously,” the health authority said.
It also said that the risk of contracting a blood-borne illness from a reused syringe is low, but those affected should talk to a physician about being tested.
Jockisch said there was a delay in being contacted by Fraser Health because of a mix-up with her contact details.
“For an entire month, knowing that I was walking around ignorantly is really where it makes me mad.”
Fabina Kara, the pharmacy’s owner, told CBC News that dozens of people could be affected.
“My heart cries out … for these patients,” she said in an interview. “It should have never happened.”
Kara says the pharmacist involved has been terminated, and she is working with Fraser Health to make sure all patients are contacted and steps are taken to ensure their safety.
Herself a pharmacist with more than 30 years experience, she said there is no excuse for the error.
“There has to be no doubt in our protocols,” Kara said. “If there was error in judgment and a very unfortunate error in judgment, if there was, that’s not acceptable.”
The College of Pharmacists, which is responsible for licensing and regulating pharmacists in the province, says it has taken action “to protect against further risk of harm to patients” while its investigation is underway.
According to a notice on the college’s website, pharmacist Bhanu Prasad Seelaboyina has signed an agreement barring him from administering injections and acting as a pharmacy manager. His drug administration certification has also been revoked.
The notice says he has admitted to reusing syringe barrels for multiple patients while he was working as the pharmacy’s manager.
The B.C. Pharmacy Association, which represents pharmacists, pharmacies and workers said in a statement that it was made aware of the incident and “immediately took steps to ensure the pharmacy did not administer additional vaccines.”
It says the college is “moving quickly” to figure out how the safety breach happened “because we want to ensure patients are safe, and that there is no doubt about the COVID-19 vaccine program.”
It also said that pharmacists in B.C. have been able to administer vaccines since 2009 and are trained to use a separate sterile needle and syringe for each injection, which is a requirement of the Canadian Immunization Guide.
Waiting on blood test results
Meanwhile, Jockisch is hoping her blood work comes back normal. She said she still believes getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is important and encourages people to do so.
“It’s what we need to do to move forward.”
On Monday, the province said that 87.7 per cent of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 80.5 per cent a second dose.