A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 12 years old sits ready for use at a vaccination site in Fort Worth, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-LM Otero

Vaccine mix-up leads to underdosing

Problem found through routine safety checks

Last month, 27 people received the wrong dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during a clinic held at the Juneau Public Health Center.

According to Sarah Hargrave, southeast regional nurse manager with the Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health, the incidents were accidental.

She said that clinic officials notified all affected people quickly and the nurse responsible for the mix–up is no longer working at the site.

“There was a shortage of staff, so we had contracted staff from a group in the Lower 48. One of the contracted nurses did underdose,” Hargrave said in a phone interview Thursday morning.

Hargrave said the state public health nurse in charge of the clinic quickly discovered the problems through established safety checks.

[Officials report second case of omicron in Alaska]

She explained that the state public health nurse found the error at the end of the day and clinic officials followed protocols from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for underdosing.

Hargrave said each affected person was contacted and offered a replacement dose. She said many people came back to the clinic for a re-do.

“This is the only underdose error that I’ve heard about across the state,” Hargrave said. “It’s very rare. But, there is a human factor involved. We work to mitigate the risk. When we do find something, we are transparent about it.”

Boosters advised and available

On Wednesday, state public health officials reported the discovery of a second case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Alaska. The news arrived amid reports of a nationwide surge in omicron cases.

Federal, state and local public health officials are encouraging primary and booster vaccinations to combat the surge.

In a call with the Empire Tuesday morning, Dr. Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist and chief of the Alaska Section of Epidemiology at DHSS, said he expects an omicron wave to strike Alaska, but he’s not sure when it will happen.

McLaughlin urged Alaskans to use proactive protective measures to avoid all strains of COVID-19 and pointed to primary vaccination and booster shots as vital preventive strategies.

Hargrave said that the Juneau Public Health Center has seen increasing demand for booster shots in the last few weeks and that doses remain available.

[City inches toward relaxing some COVID mitigations]

“We highly encourage people to get boosted. A booster is very important,” Hargrave said, noting that people can expect similar side effects to those experienced with the first and second doses. Though, she said it’s difficult to predict because people react differently.

McLaughlin also suggested “layered protection,” including non-pharmaceutical interventions such as masking, social distancing, and testing as a complement to vaccination.

In Juneau, people can register for COVID-19 testing online through https://juneau.org/covid-19 or by calling (907)586-6000.

Contact Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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