You've likely heard about the issue of "cold-chain logistics" with the first two COVID-19 vaccines approved in the U.S. And up in Mendocino County, there was a close call on Monday after an ultra-cold freezer storing hundreds of vaccine doses failed, and doctors went into emergency-distribution mode.
Like the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine requires super-cold storage — though not quite as cold, with the Pfizer vaccine needing to be kept at -94F degrees, and the Moderna vaccine at -4F degrees. And when the power went out in a freezer holding 830 Moderna doses at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Ukiah on Monday, the hospital sent out an alert to all workers, all nursing home staff, and any members of the public who wanted to line up to come get a shot.
As the Mendocino Voice reports, the faulty freezer was discovered around 11:30 a.m. Monday, and it appeared it had lost power sometime earlier. An alarm meant to alert workers if the freezer malfunctioned had also failed to go off. Doctors at the hospital realized that if they didn't hurry to distribute all 850 doses, they would thaw and become unviable.
The Moderna vaccine requires cold storage to remain viable up to 30 days, and at room temperature it becomes unviable after 12 hours. In this case, doctors concluded they only had about a two-hour window to use the vaccine they had.
So a flurry of text messages and phone calls later, hospital staffers who had not yet been vaccinated, other clinicians, nursing home workers, and any member of the general public who wanted one came to line up at Adventist Health. By 2 p.m. Monday, 600 doses had been administered by the hospital, and some people in line at four different sites had to be turned away, as the LA Times reports.
200 doses that technically belonged to the county were handed over, and 97 of those were quickly administered to front-line workers and staff at the county jail, per the LA Times.
Thus, apart from healthcare workers around the state and a limited number of prison staff and inmates, and nursing home residents and staff, a group of private citizens in Ukiah got lucky as some of the first Californians with early vaccinations — and they've been put on a list for their second, booster doses in a few weeks.
Apparently, another factor that went in favor of the free-for-all line in Ukiah was traffic. An accident on northbound 101 meant that it wasn't feasible to transport vaccine doses quickly enough to the next nearest Adventist Health hospital, Howard Memorial, in Willits.
Adventist Health received the first vaccine doses in Mendocino County last month, and began distributing them to healthcare workers at their three hospitals in the county on December 21.
Overall across the state, only about one-third, or 454,000 doses, of the total doses shipped here have been administered. As NBC Bay Area reports, that means that about 1% of Californians have gotten their first inoculation.
State officials say they are working on more efficient ways to get the vaccine rollout going faster, including the recent approval for dentists to distribute them.
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