A box with almost two dozen Moderna Covid-19 vaccines was found on the street of a mountainous town in rural Puerto Rico, officials said Wednesday.
The reports surfaced after a resident of the town of Morovis handed a box that contained syringes and vaccine vials to officers of the Morovis Municipal Police. The person claimed to have found the box in a street in the Barahona neighborhood in Morovis.
Morovis Mayor Carmen Maldonado said she spoke with Puerto Rico's Deputy Health Secretary, Dr. Iris Cardona, "so that the case can be investigated immediately. Thanks to the Morovis citizen who responsibly called the Municipal Police and filed the corresponding complaint," Maldonado tweeted in Spanish on Wednesday.
A few hours later, Puerto Rican Health Secretary Carlos Mellado announced his agency launched an investigation looking into how 21 vaccines "were lost."
"I'm very upset and, most of all, outraged,” Mellado said in Spanish. "We have to investigate, up to the last consequences, because there is a pressing interest of the Puerto Rican people to know what happened."
Investigators found that the vaccines had been delivered to a Walgreens pharmacy, under federal contract, meant for residents at a long-term care facility, according to Mellado.
Walgreens said they were "transporting Moderna vaccines to a long-term care center in Morovis to administer them, a cooler containing a limited amount of vaccine doses that was not properly secured fell from the vehicle," Puerto Rican national newspaper, El Nuevo Día, reported.
“We are very grateful to the person who found the cooler and alerted the local police. We will be investigating the matter and reviewing our procedures with the team so that this does not happen again," Walgreens said.
On Friday, Mellado announced that his agency will be referring the case to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention given that Walgreens has a contract with the federal agency. They are also alerting the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Department of Justice in Puerto Rico, "in case the specific event needs further investigation," Mellado said.
Walgreens will likely face fines for violating health regulations that specifically outline how to properly manage the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, among other applicable provisions, according to Puerto Rican health officials.
While Walgreens "has been our ally in the vaccination process" and has helped vaccinate over 50,000 patients in Puerto Rico, Mellado said it is his agency's "responsibility to ensure and guarantee the proper handling of the vaccine for Covid-19."
"I trust that all of our providers will emphasize the protocols in the handling of the vaccine, so that not one more dose is wasted," Mellado said. "The Department of Health will ensure that the vaccine is used in the appropriate way and that the protocols are followed."
On the island of 3.2 million people, the virus has infected at least 92,198 people and killed 2,023.
Puerto Rico has received nearly 630,000 Covid-19 doses so far. Of these, at least 598,000 have already been distributed across the island and over 418,000 have already been administered, officials at the a press conference Wednesday said.
Sixty-eight percent of those who have been vaccinated have only received the first dose of the vaccine, while 32 percent have already received their second dose.