Members of Saugeen First Nation in Ontario were given expired COVID-19 vaccines for a month

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Members of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation in Ontario were given expired COVID-19 doses for a month before they became aware of the error earlier this week. In telling the Ojibway First Nation in a letter, Indigenous Services Canada apologized for the error.

 

An individual gets a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination against COVID-19 for members of First Nations and their partners on April 30 in Montreal. It recently came to light that in Ontario, members of Saugeen First Nation were given expired Pfizer-BioNTech doses for a month, according to Indigenous Services Canada. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

 

Members of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation in Ontario were given expired COVID-19 doses for a month before they were told of the error earlier this week.

The Pfizer-BioNTech doses expired on Aug. 9, but were administered to community members between Aug. 13 and Sept. 9, according to a letter from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) that was sent to the First Nation.

The federal department is responsible for administering the doses at the Ojibway First Nation near Georgian Bay.

“While receiving a vaccine that is beyond its best-before date does not pose health risks to the individual, the recommendation is for the individual to be re-vaccinated,” ISC wrote in the letter to the community.

“The department sincerely apologizes for the vaccine error and the concern that it may cause for the members of Saugeen First Nation.”

It’s not clear how many people are affected by the error.

Vaccines can lose their strength if given after their best-before date, officials have said, and may make them less effective in protecting people from the COVID-19 virus.

The error also means those who have been given their shots are not considered fully immunized and won’t be able to access places such as restaurants or other venues where Ontario’s vaccine passport is needed.

The department sincerely apologizes for the vaccine error and the concern that it may cause for the members of Saugeen First Nation.– Indigenous Services Canada

There are questions about why it took a week to tell the community about the error. ISC learned of the issue on Sept. 15; the community was told about it Sept. 22.

“We had to confirm the facts and determine what actually happened,” Robert Rice, communications officer for Saugeen First Nation, wrote to the community. “We were waiting on direction from the vaccine manufacturer. We also had to co-ordinate with the Grey Bruce Public Health Unit, which is where we get the vaccine from.

“We did immediately reach out to the health director, band manager, COVID-19 safety lead in community and the chief.”

How the error happened

Saugeen First Nation received its vaccine shipment on July 13. The expiration date on the vials said October 2021, but is only correct if the vaccine remains frozen.

When thawed and stored, Pfizer-BioNTech is only good for 31 days, while Moderna vaccines are good for 30 days. The vaccines at Saugeen First Nation, therefore, expired on Aug. 9, and while that was noted on a box, it was not written on the vials themselves.

“While administering the vaccine, [Indigenous Services Canada] nurses checked the expiry date on the vial and not on the box,” the First Nation wrote in a separate letter to the community.

CBC News has reached out to the Grey Bruce medical officer of health, ISC and Saugeen First Nation Chief Lester Anquot, and will update the story when any responses are received.

 

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