A little over a week ago, in a show of goodwill to their employees, Exxon Mobile in Houston gave complimentary flu shots to 1,000 of their employees and 14 residents of a senior citizens home. Quite a breath of fresh air to hear corporate giants treating their employees with gratitude. With the possible avian flu pandemic we’ve been hearing so much about, this is good timing for such an event. A complication arose quickly after the health fair, however. One of the nurses working the fair realized the shots they’d administered weren’t flu shots at all.
What exactly they were was not immediately clear. By Thursday all the FBI could tell Exxon was that the shots “were definitely not flu shots.” Hermina Palacio, head of the Harris County health department, recommended recipients of the shots get tested for blood-borne pathogens such as AIDS and hepatitis B and C. I can’t imagine the panic going through those people. They could have been injected with anything from anthrax sauce to chicken noodle soup. The nurse who first noticed something was amiss was only able to save two syringes but she gave them both to the FBI.
The shots were determined to be nothing more than purified water and no one has reported any serious effects from the shots. Exxon offered counseling and free blood tests to their employees involved in an effort to ease the situation.
Iyad Abu El Hawa, 35, owner of Comfort & Caring home health care agency, was arrested Thursday evening in connection with bogus shots given to 14 other people in La Porte. He is being charged with Medicare fraud which carries a $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison. He’s now under investigation for the Exxon case as well.
It was surprising to see how little news coverage this got. I agree, it’s hard to take your eyes and ears off of Patrick Fitzgerald’s White House third degree (well, second degree so far), but this has everything the news drools over: scandal, pandemics, outrage. Wasn’t this the plot of “Playing God” starring TV’s David Duchovny?(note: no, it wasn’t) It should have been more covered to ensure, if there is to be an avian flu outbreak, that we know how to make sure we get the best medical care. It would also help to make those who supply the shots to the masses more scrupulous in their preparation. That way, the news can have their precious scandal, and we can have accountability.