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BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Canadian national Nancy Jean Olson has been charged by Whatcom County prosecutors here with one misdemeanor count and six felony counts of unlicensed practice of medicine after allegedly holding phony flu clinics last November at three area supermarkets for $30 a shot, according to published reports.
The shots administered by Olson, a nurse who worked in Bellingham, didn't actually contain flu vaccine, according to authorities, and Olson wasn't authorized to give them. Her clinics were held during a nationwide flu shot shortage.
Court papers said that after around 130 people at Cost Cutter and Food Pavilion stores in Lynden, Wash. and a Cost Cutter store in Blaine, Wash. received the shots, some of them grew suspicious when they failed to experience typical side effects. Grocery store managers then attempted to contact the nurse, but discovered she had provided a false company name.
A co-worker of Olson's called authorities to identify her after surveillance footage aired on television. Another woman, who worked at a flu clinic with Olson under the impression it was legitimate, gave authorities 47 preloaded, unused syringes she received from Olson.
The Food and Drug Administration's Forensic Chemistry Center tested residue in 17 of the used syringes, but was unable to determine what the substance was. To date, no one has become ill from the shots.
A warrant has been issued for Olson's arrest, the Lynden Police Department said. Olson is currently in British Columbia, but authorities have urged her to turn herself in to U.S. authorities.
Brown and Cole Stores, owner of Cost Cutter and Food Pavilion, sent a letter to customers who had received the questionable shots, offering them a real flu vaccine and a store gift certificate, company spokeswoman Sue Cole told the Bellingham Herald.
In an earlier interview with Progressive Grocer, Cole, who explained that the company's stores have operated "fairly autonomously" with regard to holding events, said the company would in the future "keep a much tighter rein on this kind of activity, out of necessity [for the safety of our customers.]" Cole added that none of the supermarkets profited from the clinics.