At around 8:50 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28, an alarm went off at a Kaiser Permanente clinic in Seattle. One of their freezer units holding around 1,600 doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine had malfunctioned. This meant that the doses were due to expire at 3:30 a.m. if they were not administered. (Related: 'Red-list' style roundups of vaccine refusers another draconian measure coming to America: 'Color codes' with 'red flags' for violators the latest sign we'll all be targeted for extermination.)
The clinic quickly contacted the University of Washington Medical Center (UW) as well as the Swedish Medical Center. Swedish and UW agreed to take the doses. UW received nearly 1,000 doses and sent them to two of their established vaccine clinics at UW Medical Center Montlake and UW Medical Center Northwest. Swedish received the rest.
Kaiser Permanente Washington President Susan Mullaney said on Friday, Jan. 29, that the company tested all of its freezers and refrigerators specifically for storing vaccines and found that all of them were functioning properly. The company will conduct a debrief to learn if the malfunction is a systemic issue.
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UW and Swedish worked quickly to make sure their facilities for this mass vaccination campaign were ready for the sudden influx of hundreds of people. At around 11 p.m. both Swedish and UW posted urgent messages on their social media platforms calling for hundreds of people to fill up appointment slots to receive the vaccines. UW's slots were for 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. the next day, while Swedish had appointments for 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
"URGENT: We have 588 DOSE 1 MODERNA appointments available Jan. 28 11 p.m. to Jan. 29 2 a.m. Clink link to book," said Swedish in a tweet. "For additional slots through to 2 a.m. click on SHOW MORE and select TOMORROW. Must be Phase 1a or Phase 1B/Tier 1."
According to Swedish's Chief Operations Officer Kevin Brooks, all available appointments were filled within 40 minutes.
"We got a call from a partner hospital that they had a fridge malfunction and they needed to vaccinate 880 people," said Brooks. "I pulled our team together – our vaccine team at Swedish – and we huddled on Microsoft Teams and came up with a plan, and 30 minutes later we came on site."
By 10 p.m., Swedish's vaccine staff, along with volunteers, were at the vaccination site. The team set up a waiting area in a parking garage where a lot of people were already waiting, some of whom were even wearing their pajamas. At 11 p.m., the mass vaccination began and the line started moving slowly.
Brooks said the priority was for people who were in Washington's Tier 1A and Tier 1B categories to be vaccinated, which includes healthcare workers and the elderly. However, by the early morning hours of Jan. 29, nobody was taking the categories into consideration any longer and the priority was to make sure the Moderna vaccine doses were not wasted.
"We're doing the best we can to stay within the CDC and the governor's guidelines on prioritization," explained Brooks. "At the same time, we want to make sure not a single drop of the vaccine goes wasted."
By 2 a.m., there was still a long line at the garage. Many people had gotten tired of standing around and were sitting down on the concrete. Swedish's staff periodically walked by to do a headcount and inform the people that remained how many would get vaccinated. Around half of the group was processed, while the other half had to be turned away.
By 3 a.m., Swedish staff said there were around 30 vaccines left and they only had 30 minutes left to vaccinate anybody they could get their hands on – policemen, students and anyone they could wrangle up nearby, regardless of the tier system, were given shots. The staff even vaccinated a reporter for NPR's Seattle affiliate station KUOW who was sent there to cover the incident.
Volunteers even ran out of the clinic to vaccinate a 75-year-old woman who runs a daycare center moments before the vaccines were set to expire.
Dr. Jeff Duchin of Seattle King County Public Health said that he was proud of the collaboration between the three healthcare corporations.
"We did tell [healthcare workers] that it would be better to give this vaccine to someone who was not eligible if they couldn't find enough eligible people in the middle of the night than to throw it away," he said during a press conference held on Friday. "That's the last thing we want to do."
Learn more about the distribution of vaccines in the United States by reading the latest articles at Vaccines.news.