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Hundreds make midnight run for COVID-19 vaccine in Seattle after freezer failure

A total of 1,650 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at risk of expiring Thursday night were quickly administered to more than a thousand people at UW and Swedish clinics.

SEATTLE — Hundreds of people rushed to Seattle University and University of Washington clinics late Thursday night to try and receive a COVID-19 vaccine before the doses expired.

Spokespeople for both Swedish and UW said that a freezer storing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine broke at Kaiser Permanente, leaving 1,650 doses of the vaccine at risk of expiring.

Swedish and UW split the doses and began administering them.

"Teams worked vigilantly and in close partnership through the night and early morning to ensure all doses were used and no vaccination lost,” a Kaiser Permanente Washington representative said.

Swedish posted an urgent message on social media around 11 p.m. Thursday saying it had hundreds of appointments available from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. to use the vaccines before they expired by the morning. Hundreds of people answered the call and showed up in their pajamas and robes to receive their first dose of the vaccine.

Swedish Medical Center COO Kevin Brooks said the available appointments were filled within 35-40 minutes.

“We got a call from a partner hospital that they had a fridge malfunction and they needed to vaccinate 880 people,” said Brooks. “I pulled our team together, our vaccine team at Swedish, and we huddled on Microsoft Teams and came up with a plan, and 30 minutes later we came on site.”

Brooks said people in Washington’s Tier 1A and 1B categories had priority, but the goal was to get people vaccinated and to avoid letting the vaccines go to waste.

“We're doing the best we can to stay within the CDC and the governor's guidelines on prioritization. At the same time, we want to make sure not a single drop of the vaccine goes wasted,” Brooks explained.

UW received about 800 doses and sent them to established vaccine clinics at UW Medical Center Montlake and UW Medical Center Northwest, according to spokesperson Susan Gregg. UW vaccinated people from 11 p.m. to about 2:30 a.m. and focused on recruiting people from the Phase 1A and 1B groups.

All of the doses of the vaccine were administered.

Susan Mullaney, president of Kaiser Permanente Washington, said all freezers and refrigerators were tested Friday morning, and they are functioning properly. Mullaney also expects a debrief to indicate if there are more systemic issues.