Texas officials scramble to administer 5,000 COVID vaccines after power loss

Officials were able to save over 3,000 doses from expiration.

February 15, 2021, 6:47 PM

Health officials in Texas scrambled to administer over 5,000 vaccine doses before they expired after the harsh winter storm hitting the state knocked out the power of the freezers storing the vaccines.

Harris County public health officials said that their facility that stored the Moderna vaccine lost power early Monday morning and a backup generator also failed. The freezers that kept 8,430 vaccine doses at their containment temperature were among the affected equipment, they said.

"We got to work under the mission to avoid losing those vaccines with the loss of power, and we quickly put together a plan to allocate and to salvage them," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a news conference Monday evening.

The judge said county officials put a plan a place to "expedite" allocation of those vaccines to locations where there were large groups of people, and that didn't require too much driving, and with appropriate medical personnel on site to administer the doses.

Dr. Marc Boom, President & CEO of Houston Methodist, helps administer 1,000 Moderna Covid-19 vaccines received from Harris County following a freezer breakdown in the middle of a winter storm in Houston, Feb. 15, 2021.
Houston Methodist

"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," Hidalgo said.

Officials were able to distribute 5,410 doses from the affected facility to four designated centers. The Harris County Jail received 3,000 doses, Methodist Hospital received 1,000, Rice University received 810, doses and 600 doses went to LBJ Hospital and Ben Taub hospital, according to Hidalgo.

Vehicles move past street lights without power during a winter storm in Houston, Feb. 15, 2021.
Chengyue Lao/Xinhua via Newscom

The remaining doses were saved after the health officials got some promising news from Moderna, according to the judge.

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

The state has been hit with power problems all weekend following a winter storm that dropped several inches of snow and brought temperatures to below freezing. Power outages in the state have impacted at least 3,919,607 customers as of 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

Officials said that some Texas customers would not have power for the rest of the day.

Hidalgo praised the fast actions by health officials during the emergency.

"These are folks in hospitals who themselves and their families have been working around the clock to keep patients safe from COVID," she said. "It's a point of pride that this was figured out that it was dealt with, and it should be a point of pride to our partners."

ABC News' Timmy Truong contributed to this report.

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