By Chelsea Miller and Melissa Linebrink
OBERLIN — Leslie Barber recently learned her 7-year-old daughter was given three defective vaccines dating back to October 2011 from Kidz First Pediatrics in Oberlin.
Barber, whose daughter attends Keystone Elementary School, received a call from the Lorain County General Health District on March 24 notifying her that her daughter would need to be re-vaccinated due to bad refrigerator temperatures at Kidz First Pediatrics.
Barber, who said the Health Department realized her daughter wasn’t properly vaccinated by reviewing her shot record, said it is scary to think that your children are protected against certain illnesses only to learn they may not be.
“I am not happy. Not to mention this was found by the Health Department on accident and this happened Oct. 24, 2011,” Barber said. “We were never notified, and we have been (back) so many times since. The Health Department said that someone in the pediatrician’s office was supposed to be in charge of notifying families but obviously has not.”
Dr. John Sanderson, a pediatrician at Kidz First, said attempts were made to contact patients who were given vaccines from October to the end of December 2011 — the period before the temperature trouble was noticed. He acknowledged some of those patients “might have fallen through the cracks.”
Sanderson said the temperature in the refrigeration units that hold the vaccines was adjusted downward by a former employee, whom he declined to name. He said that employee did not notify him about the change.
The employee did not realize that the too-cold temperatures may render the vaccines ineffective, Sanderson said.
That employee was no longer working at Kidz First Pediatrics when the problem was discovered in December 2011 during an audit by the Ohio Department of Health, he said.
Temperatures readings for vaccine storage are required to be routinely monitored and provided to the Ohio Department of Health.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, vaccinations must be kept at a temperature between 35 degrees and 46 degrees Fahrenheit. The agency has specific guidelines for storage, including keeping vaccinations 2 to 3 inches from refrigerator walls and boxes and away from the cold air vent and the refrigerator door.
Affected patients were receiving vaccines through the Vaccines For Children program, a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention buys vaccines at a discount and distributes them to state health departments and local public health agencies, which distribute them at no charge to private physicians’ offices and public health clinics registered as VFC providers.
Children who receive VFC vaccines are protected against 16 diseases including polio, mumps, tetanus, measles, Hepatitis A and B and rubella, among others, according to the CDC.
Sanderson said the vaccines are given in a series, but children given vaccines by his office from October to December 2011 may be more susceptible to those illnesses.
He could not say how many patients were affected, nor could the Lorain County General Health District.
Lorain County Health Commissioner Dave Covell said many of Sanderson’s patients have been referred to the Lorain County General Health District for re-vaccinations, but he said parents should not worry.
“The kids are not really in danger. The key is, we want to make sure that (the vaccines) are effective,” he said.
Covell said Kidz First Pediatrics has been cooperative with the Lorain County General Health District throughout the ordeal.
Since the temperature problem was discovered, he has been in a struggle with the Ohio Department of Health to continue providing vaccinations.
The Ohio Department of Health has ordered Sanderson to pay $60,000 for the damaged vaccines, and Sanderson said he is not allowed to provide VFC vaccines until the amount is paid. He continues to provide vaccines to those with private insurance.
Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, said Kidz First Pediatrics has met only three of nine required standards, although she would not specify which standards were not met. The practice was issued a corrective action notice on Jan.17, 2012, and Kidz First Pediatrics has appealed, but Amato said the agency has not heard from the practice since.
“Right now, they are inactive,” she said.
Amato explained being inactive means that the practice will not receive vaccines from the Ohio Department of Health.
Sanderson said the practice’s insurance company refused to cover the costs of the damaged vaccines, and the Ohio Department of Health won’t pay for them.
The money struggle led to subsequent troubles in notifying parents, he said.
“I could not send out the letter that they wanted, because the letter had to say that I would re-vaccinate the person,” he said.
Sanderson said re-vaccinating patients was not an option. The cost would put Kidz First Pediatrics out of business.
He said the practice has been verbally notifying affected patients and directing them to other facilities. The ineffective vaccinations were noted in each child’s medical records, which are available only to doctors who are part of the Ohio Impact Statewide Immunization Information System.
That’s how Barber discovered the ineffective vaccine. She had gone to the Health Department, which saw the notation on her daughter’s file.
Barber now must take her 7-year-old to have the vaccinations repeated and one of them must be an adult dose due to her age.
“And now, she cannot get the same child’s dose as she did (in 2011), she needs the dose that you would receive going into seventh grade, and she is so tiny, and in first grade. It’s scary,” Barber said.
Barber said she plans to contact Akron Children’s Hospital to receive confirmation that the higher dose is safe for her 7-year-old daughter.
“Maybe they can give me some information. I don’t want her to get the ‘adult version’ as they called it and it be too much for her little body,” Barber said.
Sanderson said the practice, which opened six years ago, has learned from the mistake and has taken steps to rectify the situation. It has purchased a generator and a new, more expensive refrigerator with better temperature controls.
He said while the practice has lost some patients, many have remained loyal. The practice serves 5,000 to 6,000 patients, according to Sanderson.
“I was pleasantly surprised because the vast majority of the patients stayed with us,” he said.
Tory Hardman, a Carlisle Township resident and mother of two, said her sons were under the medical care of Sanderson. Although her children were not affected by the faulty vaccines, Hardman said she took them elsewhere after learning about the vaccination problems.
“He’s a good doctor, but I didn’t want to go to free clinics for my kids’ shots, so that is why I left and took their records with me,” she said.
Barber said she hopes Kidz First Pediatrics learns from the situation, but she is hesitant to send her children to the doctor now.
“I guess when I take my kids or myself or husband to a doctor, I expect honesty, and for them to do all they can to keep us as healthy as possible. Not notifying us that my daughter has not been properly vaccinated against certain sicknesses or diseases is just wrong, and it has been over two years,” she said.