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42 People in West Virginia Mistakenly Given Virus Treatment Instead of Vaccine

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42 people in West Virginia are mistakenly given a virus treatment instead of the vaccine.

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Dec. 31, 2020, 4:45 p.m. ET

Dec. 31, 2020, 4:45 p.m. ET

By Lauren Wolfe

Monoclonal antibody cocktails have been used experimentally to treat Covid-19 patients, including prominent figures like President Trump.
Monoclonal antibody cocktails have been used experimentally to treat Covid-19 patients, including prominent figures like President Trump. Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

Forty-two people in Boone County, in southwestern West Virginia, who were scheduled to receive the coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday were mistakenly injected with an experimental monoclonal antibody treatment instead, the West Virginia National Guard said on Thursday.

None of the 42 recipients has developed any adverse effects so far, the Guard said in a statement. The Guard, which is leading the state’s vaccine distribution effort, called the error “a breakdown in the process.”

The experimental treatment, a cocktail of antibodies made by Regeneron, is the same one President Trump received when he was hospitalized with Covid-19 in November. It is meant to be administered in an intravenous infusion, not in a direct injection like the vaccine.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, said that the mix-up apparently happened during the delivery of a shipment of the Regeneron cocktail to a distribution hub, where the vials were placed among supplies of the Moderna vaccine. Workers at the hub then apparently included the treatment vials in a shipment of vaccine to Boone County.

General Hoyer attributed the situation to “a couple of human errors,” and said the Guard acted swiftly as soon as it realized what had happened. “We found an issue, we’re fixing it and we’re moving forward,” he said in a radio interview on Thursday.

No other shipments of the vaccine have been affected, the Guard said in a statement.

Vials for the treatment and the vaccine look somewhat similar, but are clearly labeled, as are the boxes that hold them. Both are kept in refrigeration before they are used.

The blunder came at a time when record numbers of hospitalizations across the country signaled a greater need than ever for the antibody treatments, which are scarce and expensive, though some supplies are sitting unused in refrigerators across the country.

Officials in West Virginia reported 1,109 new coronavirus cases and 20 new deaths on Thursday. There have been at least 85,334 cases and 1,338 deaths in the state since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times database.

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