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Three-person Iowa panel rejects $1M payouts to inmates given COVID-19 vaccine overdoses

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FILE - A sign stands outside the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Iowa, on July 1, 2017. A state board on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, rejected claims for $1 million payments for 52 prison inmates at the penitentiary who were given six times the proper dose of COVID-19 vaccines last year. (John Lovretta//The Hawk Eye via AP, File)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A state board on Monday rejected claims for $1 million payments for 52 prison inmates who were given six times the proper dose of COVID-19 vaccines last year.

The three-member State Appeals Board, which considers state legal financial obligations, unanimously denied the claims from inmates who received the extra doses in April 2021.

The 52 inmates who each sought a $1 million payment were among 77 prisoners at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison who had been given overdoses of the Pfizer vaccine by prison nursing staff.

The board — made up of State Auditor Rob Sand, State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and Iowa Department of Management Director Kraig Paulsen — accepted the recommendation of the Iowa attorney general’s office lawyers to reject the claims.

The lawyers advised that under the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act “the state is immune from claims arising out of administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The mistaken doses occurred after the vaccine was delivered in concentrate form that was supposed to be diluted with saline solution.

Two nurses were fired after the incident. A spokesman for the union representing prison staff said the overdoses happened after the prison abruptly switched from using the Moderna vaccine to the Pfizer version. Pfizer packages its vaccines in vials that contain six doses apiece and must be diluted with saline solution before use. Moderna’s vaccine does not require dilution.

Union spokesman Troy Price said the nurses were given 90 minutes notice and no training on the change in how the new vaccines were to be prepared and delivered before they were to begin administering shots.

A corrections department spokesman said the agency expects its nurses to be able to read and follow instructions for administering vaccines to those under their care

The inmates experienced side effects commonly associated with the vaccine including soreness at the injection site, body aches, fatigue and fever, a corrections spokesman said.

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