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1,700 H1N1 vaccine doses freeze en route to North Dakota

FARGO -- North Dakota health officials are investigating how 1,700 doses of H1N1 vaccine froze while they were shipped to locations statewide last week, rendering them ineffective.

The state Health Department notified health providers of the problem on Monday and recommended that the 150 people who received the frozen vaccine be revaccinated because it might not protect them against the H1N1 virus, better known as swine flu.

"The vaccine remains safe - it's a question of its effectiveness," said Tim Wiedrich, the health department's emergency preparedness and response director. "We wanted to be very cautious and very conservative and recommend that those folks be revaccinated."

None of the frozen vaccines were shipped to locations in Cass County, Fargo MeritCare Health System spokesman Darren Huber said Tuesday.

The number of flu cases in North Dakota has increased in recent days, with health officials saying they are most likely caused by the H1N1 strain.

Wiedrich said state health officials don't know how the vaccines became frozen - but it could have been from a breakdown within the cooling process because there are different ways used to control the temperature of the vaccine during shipment, he said.

According to a statement from the North Dakota Department of Health:

The vaccines were shipped to the department, repackaged on Oct. 14 and then shipped to 99 vaccine providers across the state.

The following day, providers called in with concerns that the temperature indicators inside the packages were below the safe shipping and storage range for the vaccine.

Of the 99 providers, 55 said their vaccine was OK, 30 said the temperature indicators showed the vaccine was frozen and the remaining 14 providers were still being checked.

The frozen vaccines are about 7 percent of the 24,100 total doses the state has received. Wiedrich said the state will receive more H1N1 vaccine in the near future.

"We regret this occurred, but I wouldn't classify this as a major setback," he said Tuesday. "It's a relatively small quantity of vaccine compared to the 24,100 available. ... As time goes on, more and more vaccinations will arrive and there will be more than enough vaccine for anyone who wants it."

Wiedrich could not say whether it was medical staff or the public who received the frozen vaccinations.

Molly Sander, immunization program manager with the state Health Department, told the Grand Forks Herald that most of the frozen doses were likely for the main priority groups: health care workers, children and pregnant women.

MeritCare Health System has a small allotment of H1N1 vaccine on hand and planned to begin vaccinating its staff this week. Huber could not say Tuesday how much vaccine the health system had.

Provider list

Following is the list of North Dakota providers who reported receiving H1N1 influenza vaccine shipments with indicators reporting the vaccine may have been frozen. No additional location information was provided.

* Central Valley Health District, Jamestown, Napoleon, Gackle.

* Oakes Community Hospital.

* Cavalier County Health District, Langdon.

* Lake Region District Health Unit, Eddy County.

* City-County Health District, Barnes County.

* Quentin Burdick Health Care Facility.

* Southwest District Health Unit, Dickinson.

* Traill District Health Unit.

* Walsh County Health District.

* Foster County Public Health

* Kidder County District Health Unit.

* Underwood Clinic.

* Elgin Clinic.

* Southeast Medical Center.

* Crosby Clinic.

* Sakakawea Hazen Clinic

* MeritCare Clinic Jamestown.

* Innovis Health Wahpeton.

* Innovis Health Jamestown.

* MeritCare Hillsboro Clinic.

* Towner County Medical Center.

* Rolette County Public Health District.

* Washburn Family Clinic.

* Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch.

* Richardton Clinic/nursing home.

* Northland Community Heath Center, Rolette.

* Kidder County Community Health Center.

* Dakota Pharmacy & Natural Health Center, Bismarck.

* Trinity Community Clinic-New Town.

* Richard P. Stader Psychiatric Center, Grand Forks.