In October 2015, employees at Otsuka Pharmaceutical in West Windsor, New Jersey received startling news. The previous month, Otsuka hired TotalWellness, a company specializing in corporate wellness programs, to administer flu shots to employees. A nurse administered shots to 67 employees on September 30. A few days later, an alert from TotalWellness was sent to Otsuka Pharmaceutical employees, informing them the company had become aware that the nurse failed to follow proper medical procedures and safeguards. The company stated that it was working with the New Jersey Department of Health to inform patients and provide resources to mitigate any potential medical concerns and exposure risks. This letter did not provide additional information as to exactly what these risks were.
In a follow up letter sent by the Department of Health, employees were informed that the nurse administering the flu shots reused the same syringe for every single patient. A fresh needle was used for each vaccination, however a single syringe was used throughout. The practice reusing the syringe may have exposed employees to infected blood. The Health Department categorized the infection risk as low, but still recommended that the employees be tested for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.
Employees were tested immediately following the exposure; however, they needed to wait six months and be tested again, as these blood-borne diseases can take up to half a year to appear. In addition, the employees were provided with vaccinations against Hepatitis B. TotalWellness, the Centers for Disease Prevention and the NJ Health Department offered free screenings to exposed employees. In addition to exposure from contaminated blood, the nurse who administered the flu shots used less than the proper dosage, so it was also recommended that employees obtain a second flu shot.
In a subsequent interview, the nurse who administered the shots, Mary Roback, claimed that TotalWellness sent the wrong supplies. Ms. Roback stated that the company only provided her with two syringes, which were the wrong type for administering flu shots. However, she proceeded to administer the vaccinations, switching needles and sterilizing the syringe for each new patient. When an employee of Otsuka Pharmaceutical noticed that she was reusing the syringe, she stopped administering the vaccine. Following the incident, Roback voluntarily surrendered her LPN license to the New Jersey Board of Nursing.
In April 2016, Michael and Laurie Bellero of Robbinsville, NJ filed suit against both Ms. Roback and TotalWellness. They are seeking damages as compensation for the emotional distress they experienced while waiting out the six month period. This is the first lawsuit stemming from the incident.