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As many as 1,000 receive fake flu vaccine

/ Source: The Associated Press

As many as 1,000 Exxon Mobil employees and 14 residents of a senior citizens home were injected with fake flu vaccine, authorities said Friday, and the owner of a home health care company was arrested.

Preliminary tests indicated the syringes were filled with purified water, U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said. And no ill effects from the shots were reported.

But Hermina Palacio, head of the Harris County health department, recommended that people who received the shots get tested for blood-borne pathogens such as the AIDS virus and hepatitis B and C.

Exxon Mobil offered blood tests and counseling to the employees who received the shots at a health fair Oct. 19-20 at the oil company’s complex of refineries and chemical plants in Baytown, just east of Houston.

Iyad Abu El Hawa, 35, was arrested Thursday. El Hawa, owner of Comfort & Caring Home Health and two other home health centers in Houston, was charged with Medicare fraud in connection with shots given to 14 elderly people at a home in LaPorte on Oct. 21.

When asked if El Hawa would be charged with giving bogus shots at the Exxon Mobil fair, prosecutors said only that their investigation is continuing.

“This is a very callous and disturbing crime,” Rosenberg said. “He purposefully put at risk many, many people.”

A call to Comfort & Caring was not immediately returned.

A nurse hired by the company to give the shots notified the FBI after noticing some irregularities, Rosenberg said.

The nurse, who was not identified, told authorities that she thought it odd that company employees did not know about lot numbers used to track vaccines. The nurse also became concerned when a Hawa employee said he had pricked his finger a few times while filling the syringes, and not to let the doctor at the health fair examine the syringes, according to the FBI.

The nurse kept two of the syringes and gave them to the FBI.

Medicare fraud carries up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine.

In May, a nurse in Minnesota, Michelle Torgerson, pleaded guilty to charges she used diluted flu vaccine left over from an earlier clinic and gave college students shots at $20 each.