Why were patients injected with an empty syringe instead of a COVID-19 vaccine?

Posted at 5:54 PM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 07:53:15-05

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. -- Kroger, as of Thursday evening, has still not provided an explanation as to why multiple people were mistakenly injected with an empty syringe instead of a COVID-19 vaccine at a Central Virginia clinic.

Several people walked into the Midlothian Kroger Monday and Tuesday expecting to get vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson Coronavirus vaccine.

Instead, they were injected with an empty syringe.

A Kroger spokesperson said fewer than 10 people were impacted.

One, a man who spoke anonymously to CBS 6, said a Kroger employee initially told him he was accidentally given a shot of saline.

"I sort of assumed the person had taken the wrong vial out of the refrigerator, and I remember when I was in the room there seemed to be a number of hypodermic needles that I assumed were full," he said.

Kroger later clarified it wasn't saline, rather an empty needle and that they initially received misinformation.

"We'll have a station of nurses who draw vaccines from the vials," Cat Long, a spokesperson for the Richmond-Henrico Health Districts, said while she explained the vaccination process at mass vaccination clinics. "Then after they fill the syringes, they give those vaccines to the nurses who are actually vaccinating folks."

She said Richmond and Henrico have not had any issues injecting people with empty syringes but understood how it may happen.

"The shot is clear so that can be a little challenging to tell I suppose, but we haven't had any issues keeping them separate," Long said.

Kelly Goode, a pharmacist and VCU medical school professor agreed.

"It can be a little bit hard sometimes to tell if there's liquid in there," Goode said.

To avoid mistaking empty syringes with filled syringes, she said pharmacists need a procedure in place.

"Once you filled it, it goes to another place so that you don't mix up unfilled syringes with filled syringes," Goode explained. "And so you shouldn't have empty syringes on your counter, and then have filled syringes on the same counter, because that's how mistakes could occur."

Goode said pharmacists also need different training on administering all three vaccines, and vaccinators should have been re-trained when the Johnson & Johnson dose, which was used at Kroger, became available.

"You would have to learn how that is differently prepared in some of the nuances for the storage for that vaccine, which is a little bit different from the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine," Goode said.

Goode also explained there was no evidence that injecting an empty shot into a deltoid muscle, which is where COVID-19 vaccines go, caused any harm because the muscle would absorb the air.

Meanwhile, Long emphasized that people should trust the vaccination process because problems don't arise often. When they do, Long said the CDC and affected people are immediately notified.

"While these situations are very serious, they are very rare," Long said. "We administer thousands of shots per day and have had very few incidents."

The Virginia Department of Health said Kroger is taking steps to make sure this mistake doesn't happen again.