British Columbia

Fraser Health suspends pharmacy from COVID-19 vaccine program after syringe barrels were reused

British Columbia's Fraser Health Authority says it has stopped a pharmacy from administering COVID-19 vaccines after learning that syringes — the plastic tube that holds the vaccine solution, not the needle — were reused on patients.

One vaccine recipient forced to undergo blood tests for potential infection

Corrin Jockisch says she was contacted by Fraser Health on Sept. 24, 2021 about the reuse of syringes — the plastic tube that holds the vaccine solution, not the needle — at the New Westminster, B.C., pharmacy where she received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Shawn Foss/CBC News)

British Columbia's Fraser Health Authority says it has stopped a pharmacy from administering COVID-19 vaccines after learning syringes were reused on patients.

The health authority did not name the pharmacy it had suspended or how many patients were given a vaccine with a reused syringe — the plastic tube that holds the vaccine solution, not the needle. 

But CBC News has learned that the vaccines in question were administered at the Ultracare Guardian Pharmacy in New Westminster, B.C.

"We were made aware of an incident involving an infection prevention and control lapse that occurred during COVID-19 immunizations where syringes were reused at a pharmacy in one of our communities," Fraser Health said in a statement to CBC News. 

"We take any control lapse very seriously," the statement read. 

Potential exposure

The incident means people who received a COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy on certain dates have been potentially exposed to disease.

Fraser Health said 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.

Corinn Jockisch says she went for her second dose at the Ultracare Guardian Pharmacy on Aug. 25. Last week, she received a letter from Fraser Health asking her to call a public health nurse.

Jockisch, 35, said she was told 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 said.

Jockisch now has to have a set of blood tests over the next few months to rule out any infection from the mishap.

"It's just really inexcusable and I can't understand why."

Corinn Jockisch looks at a letter sent to her by the Fraser Health Authority, which led to a warning that she could have been exposed to a blood-borne illness after a pharmacist reused a syringe to administer one of her COVID-19 vaccines. (Shawn Foss/CBC News)

Jockisch said there was a delay in being contacted by Fraser Health because of a mixup with her contact details.

"For an entire month, knowing that I was walking around ignorantly is really where it makes me mad."

Pharmacist fired

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. "It should have never happened."

Kara says the pharmacist involved has been fired, and she is working with Fraser Health to make sure all affected patients are contacted and steps are taken to ensure their safety.

Kara, who says she is a pharmacist with more than 30 years of experience, said there is no excuse for the error.

"There has to be no doubt in our protocols," she said. "If there was error in judgment and a very unfortunate error in judgment … that's not acceptable."

Pharmacy safety

The College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, which is responsible for licensing and regulating pharmacists in the province, says it is investigating and has taken action "to protect against further risk of harm to patients."

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 several patients between Aug. 24 and Aug. 26 while he was working as the pharmacy's manager.

CBC News was unable to locate any contact information for Seelaboyina. Several social media sites in his name appear to have been deactivated.

The B.C. Pharmacy Association said in a statement that it was made aware of the incident and 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 said pharmacists in B.C. are trained to use a separate sterile needle and syringe for each injection, which is a requirement of the Canadian Immunization Guide.

Jockisch 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 have received a second dose.

With files from Baneet Braich, Courtney Dickson and Megan Stewart

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