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St. Paul, Minn. — Michelle Torgerson set up shop in the Christensen Center on Augsburg's Minneapolis campus last week, and, according to the college, administered three dozen alleged flu shots to students, faculty, and staff. After campus officials questioned her presence, Torgerson left abruptly, fueling suspicions about her activity. But at a brief news conference, the 33-year-old nurse sought to reassure those she had injected.
"I would just like all the students and staff to know that they're OK and that I didn't do anything wrong," she said.
Torgerson said nothing else during the quick availability. But her attorney, Robert Hajek, said Torgerson has been a licensed practical nurse since 1998 with a good employment history and no criminal or disciplinary record.
Hajek says Torgerson obtained the vaccine from her employer, but he declined to say who she works for, whether the employer had authorized Torgerson to take the vaccine, or whether the employer knew of her plans to offer the shots to the public. Nonetheless, Hajek says there should be no cause for alarm among the recipients of the shots. Hajek says Torgerson had given thousands of flu shots throughout the Twin Cities as part of her regular work.
"The flu shots that she administered at Augsburg contained the same type of vaccine that she had used during the last several months. Ms. Torgerson regrets any distress that may have been caused over this unfortunate incident," he said.
Minneapolis police arrested Torgerson Friday night, but released her Sunday without filing charges. They found several vials of liquid with Torgerson at the time of her arrest. Those have been turned over to the federal Food and Drug Administration of testing.
Kris Ehresmann, who manages the state immunization program, says definitive results may not be available until later in the week. But she says the packaging and labeling on the vials appear legitimate.
"We did visually inspect the unopened vials and the open vials, and based on visual inspection, it certainly looks to be influenza vaccine. We did a comparison of the lot numbers of the vaccine, and verified with the manufacturer that they are, in fact, legitimate lot numbers and expiration dates," she said.
Hajek says Torgerson offered the $20 flu shots at Augsburg as part of a fund-raising project for her nine-year-old daughter's school. He was unable to say, however, how much had been raised, noting only that an envelope containing the proceeds had been confiscated by investigators.
I would just like all the students and staff to know that they're OK, and that I didn't do anything wrong.
Torgerson's assurances that the shots were legitimate eased a few nerves on Augsburg's campus. But one recipient of a shot says it doesn't excuse her actions. Suzanne Jokela of Duluth, a freshman at the college, says she was never particularly concerned for her safety, but she says the unauthorized clinic and the uncertainty about what was in the shots was nevertheless disruptive.
"What she did was very irresponsible," Jokela said. "And regardless of whether or not it was a flu shot, she shouldn't have been doing it. Even if she was really trying to raise money for her daughter, that is just a reckless and careless thing to do."
Ehresmann of the state Health Department says even if conclusive tests show the substance was, in fact, influenza vaccine, it won't be the end of the case.
"Once that question has been answered, there certainly are other aspects of the situation that will need to be investigated and looked into," she said.
Ehresmann says state rules and regulations govern who can administer vaccinations and under what conditions. If Torgerson was acting without the proper authority, she could yet face disciplinary action or other charges.