Here’s how the Texas winter storms, power outages have affected COVID-19 vaccines

Bluebonnets in snow - Covid vaccine in Texas
Photo via Dean Franklin/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Americans across multiple states are feeling the after-effects of Winter Storm Uri, but Texans have been hit particularly hard. Homes and businesses lost power in the early morning hours of Feb. 15 as temperatures dropped into the single digits. As people scrambled to maintain power and stay warm, health officials in Texas were desperately trying to navigate delays in COVID-19 vaccine distribution caused by the inclement weather.

The massive winter storm in Texas is expected to delay COVID vaccine distribution throughout the week. The state doesn’t expect its latest shipment of 400,000 additional vaccine doses to arrive before Feb. 17 or Feb. 18, at the earliest. Appointments to receive doses were also postponed or delayed, as the harsh winter weather kept most southerners firmly indoors.

A more dire situation arose in Houston on Feb. 15, when the power outages struck a facility housing 8,430 doses of the Moderna COVID vaccine. The vaccine must be kept at a temperature between minus-13 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. When the freezer that housed the vaccines lost power and a backup generator also failed, officials were left scrambling to administer the doses before they expired.

Officials were left with 12 hours, according to Moderna’s website, to administer the doses. They immediately began the hunt for densely populated locations, where vaccine doses could quickly be administered by qualified staff.

“We were looking for places where there were already large numbers of people, or where there were, nurses, trained medical professionals who could administer the vaccines, and where we wouldn’t need folks to drive somewhere in this very dangerous weather and road conditions,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told reporters at a news conference.

They managed to distribute 5,410 of the doses to several locations. Three thousand of the doses went to Harris County Jail, 1,000 went to Methodist Hospital, 810 went to Rice University, and the final 600 doses were given to LBJ Hospital and Ben Taub hospital.

The remaining 3,020 doses didn’t go to waste either. Following updated guidance from Moderna, officials saved all of the COVID vaccine doses, giving Texas residents a little bit of good news.

“They gave us updated guidance, specific to us, that the vaccine supply we thought we were going to lose in a few hours, we could actually re-refrigerate, and administer later to our waitlist,” Hidalgo told ABC. “So roughly half … of the vaccines have been distributed, and the rest have been put back in storage for distribution per our normal process.”

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Sources: USA Today, ABC, Weather Channel

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