Risk Of COVID-19 Vaccine Spoilage Increases Because Of Power Outages, Severe Weather

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Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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Power outages caused by severe winter weather across the country have affected freezers that house coronavirus vaccines and have also disrupted vaccine distribution in many states.

Health officials in Oregon said blackouts in the state have affected freezers that contain COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday, according to Fox News. The officials also noted that extreme weather could also impact shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine coming to and moving throughout the state.

“We want you to know that vaccine shipments may be delayed due to severe weather here in Oregon and across the country. This slowdown and the effects of local winter weather may impact your access to vaccines,” the Oregon Health Authority tweeted.

“We’re also assisting Oregon COVID-19 vaccine sites that have lost power to their freezers by moving doses to powered sites to avoid spoilage,” the Oregon Health Authority said in another tweet in the thread. The agency’s health officials “are evaluating the situation and expect to learn more in the next few days,” the tweet thread concluded.

The Oregon Health Authority did not elaborate on which specific areas had freezers that were impacted by the power outages, according to Fox News. Winter storms left over 150,000 Portland General Electric (PGE) customers without power.

PGE tweeted that its system “has experienced catastrophic destruction due to the nature of this storm,” and was working hard to bring the power grid back online.

With as many as 100 million Americans currently living in snowy or frigid conditions due to winter storms, according to the Associated Press, Oregon was not the only state to experience vaccine distribution disruptions from the winter weather.

A number of localities in states ranging from Alabama and South Carolina to New Hampshire, Illinois and Indiana have announced delays or cancelations in some vaccinations, according to the Washington Post.

Texas, which has been most affected by the winter storms due to the affect they have had on the state’s power grid, said their weekly vaccine allotment would not arrive until Wednesday at the soonest, the Washington Post reported. “No one wants to put vaccine at risk by attempting to deliver it in dangerous conditions,” a graphic posted on Twitter by Texas Department of State Health Services read. Texas said its weekly vaccine allotment wouldn’t begin to arrive until Wednesday.

More than 4 million Texans were left without power due to blackouts caused by the winter storms, according to NBC News.

Texas health authorities scrambled to administer as many COVID-19 vaccines as possible, given the vaccine doses could spoil if they were not kept at the right temperature, NBC News reported. Freezers storing more than 8,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine began to thaw after even the backup generator failed at the Harris County Health Department. Of the 8,430 doses, health officials were able to distribute 5,410 of them to five separate locations, NBC News reported. Moderna then advised the county on how to store the vaccines safely in higher temperatures for same-day use, according to NBC News.

“Due to the severe winter weather currently impacting a large swath of the country, the U.S. government is projecting widespread delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries over the next few days,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told the Washington Post in an email.

The White House has acknowledged that they are aware power outages caused by winter storms were impacting COVID-19 vaccine distribution, according to a statement delivered by White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Jeff Zients during a Wednesday briefing, as reported by Fox News. “As we’ve lost some time in some states, we hope that our partners will do all they can to make up that lost ground consistent with distributing the vaccine as efficiently and equitably as possible,” Zients said, according to Fox News.

Previously, other vaccine doses have spoiled because of improper storage practices.