Improperly stored COVID-19 vaccines given to God's Lake First Nation citizens

COVID-19 vaccines that were improperly stored, and believed to have been unviable, were given to 26 citizens of God's Lake First Nation.

3rd doses were also given to teenagers before eligibility, MKO reports

Twenty-six citizens of God's Lake First Nation were given COVID-19 vaccines that were improperly stored, and believed to have been unviable, earlier this year. (Michael Probst/The Associated Press)

COVID-19 vaccines that were improperly stored, and believed to have been unviable, were given to 26 citizens of God's Lake First Nation.

The errors were made between Dec. 19, 2021, and Jan. 9, 2022, God's Lake Chief Hubert Watt said in a release shared by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

Third doses of the vaccine were also given to teenagers between the ages of 12 to 17, despite them not being eligible to receive a booster shot until this past Monday.

During the week of Jan. 17, nurses at God's Lake First Nation discovered a shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which was incorrectly stored in the freezer at the nursing station, according to an email from Indigenous Services Canada.

After consultation with the manufacturer, it was deemed that the efficacy of doses stored in the freezer for more than 20 days could not be verified. The shipment received from the province was mislabeled by the distributor, which led to incorrect storage.

"We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this situation may have caused, as well as for any impacts it may have on vaccine confidence and uptake in God's Lake First Nation community, or in any other Indigenous community across Canada," said a spokesperson for ISC. "Rest assured that we work diligently to ensure that vaccine distribution abides by the highest standards."

Vials have since been returned to the Manitoba provincial distributor, as per protocol.

Leadership in God's Lake was not made aware of the errors until Feb. 4.

"As leaders, we have worked diligently to promote uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine to First Nations citizens. It takes time for some people to feel comfortable to receive a vaccine. It is my hope this news does not increase hesitancy in people who are still thinking about getting vaccinated," Chief Watt said.

The vaccines were administered by nurses hired by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch at ISC.

No harmful adverse effect is expected to occur due to the incorrectly stored vaccines, but ISC suggests the administered doses may not be as effective as those stored properly, the federal agency said.

ISC adds that this incident will allow for an in-depth assessment of the chronology leading up to it, and inform practices to ensure that such a situation does not occur again.

"New mechanisms have since been put into place to that effect, and they will be carefully monitored," the ISC spokesperson said. "In addition, ISC has conducted a country-wide verification process to confirm that this specific storage incident was an isolated one. We can confirm that no other ISC-operated nursing station has encountered any such inconsistencies."

A team of health professionals was deployed to God's Lake First Nation on Tuesday to advise people affected by the error and discuss options for next steps.

A physician is also available to go on community radio to discuss what happened and answer any questions.

All impacted clients will be offered an additional dose eight weeks after they received the improperly stored vaccine, according to ISC

The federal agency maintains it will continue to work with God's Lake First Nation to address any concerns their chief, council and members may have with regards to the situation.

With files from Jenn Allen