When Freezer Breaks, Hospital Administers 600 COVID Vaccines Just In Time

Los Angeles Times

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been rocky so far, but one Northern California hospital may have come up with a possible plan for a mass inoculation program—after their vaccine shipment was put in peril due to a malfunctioning freezer.

On Monday morning, senior staff at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Mendocino County were holding a meeting when the hospital pharmacist interrupted. There was a problem. The compressor on the freezer storing 830 doses of the Moderna vaccine had stopped working, and the alarm meant to alert workers of a malfunction had failed. The vaccine, which needs to be kept at a certain temperature until being administered, was thawing—and hospital staff needed to act fast.

The Moderna vaccine is shipped and stored at frozen temperatures, and once it reaches room temperature, it must be used within 12 hours. By the time the problem with the hospital freezer was discovered, the vials had already been warming—and there are only about two hours left to use before they would be unviable.

Cici Winiger via the Los Angeles Times

“It was not how my day was planned,” said Adventist spokeswoman Cici Winiger. “At that point it was all hands on deck, drop everything.”

Like they were racing to defuse a bomb in a movie, the medical team sprung to action. They decided to inject every dose, regardless of state guidelines. Starting with those first on the priority list, the hospital staff got busy.

About 200 doses belong to the county and were being stored by the hospital. Winiger said those doses were returned to the county. The county then gave 100 doses to the city of Ukiah, county Chief Executive Carmel J. Angelo said.

An elder care facility took 40 doses for staff. Lt. John Bednar, who helps run the Ukiah County jail, said his facility—which is in the middle of an outbreak—received 97 doses. 100 doses then went to the fire department.

“I was trying to make sure all my people got shots before I did,” Fire Chief Doug Hutchinson said. Essential city staff, firefighters, and police all received their first round of the vaccination.

Cici Winiger via the Los Angeles Times

With 600 shots remaining, the Adventist staff sent a text asking every available medical professional to come to one of the four sites to administer the vaccine and monitor those who received it.

“We had nurses, pharmacists, physicians, even those that are not part of the hospital, coming to help,” said Judson Howe, president for Adventist Health in Mendocino County. “It was all hands on deck and a true community effort.”

Finally, the hospital staff texted employees to let people know that anyone who showed up could get their shot. By the two-hour deadline, every dose was used.

“It’s just amazing to go toward one goal and get it done,” Winiger said. “I was just thinking in my head, can you imagine if we had more time to do this? If this is how we do a massive vaccination later, we are golden. We can do this.”

Patricia Grisafi

Written by Patricia Grisafi