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Power outage leaves health officials scrambling to administer 5,400 doses of coronavirus vaccine

HOUSTON – Harris County health officials scrambled Monday to administer 8,430 doses of the coronavirus vaccine after a power outage caused some of the vials to thaw.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said that after the power outage, a backup generator meant to keep a freezer at the Harris County Public Health building running failed. That led to 8,430 doses of the Moderna vaccine to thaw. She said that was when officials began developing a plan to administer the doses before they become unusable.

“We were looking for places where there were already large numbers of people,” Hidalgo said.

She said officials were also looking for places that had medical personnel available to administer the vaccine and also places where people wouldn’t have to travel.

That led to 3,000 doses being distributed to the Harris County Jail, 600 doses to LBJ and Ben Taub hospitals, 1,000 doses to Houston Methodist Hospital and 810 doses to Rice University.

Hidalgo said of the 8,430 vaccines available, 5,410 were distributed. County officials contacted Moderna and were given guidance from the vaccine-maker that the remaining doses could be refrigerated and used later.

Scene at Rice

One of those places was Rice University, which received 810 doses to administer to staff and students on the campus.

“We talked to students in line and when they heard about it, they sprinted over here to get in line,” KPRC 2′s Jacob Rascon reported during his live report at the university. “Hundreds and hundreds of people are in line.”

Rascon said there were at least 1,000 people in line when he arrived at the gym where they were administering the doses on a first-come, first-served basis.

Houston Methodist’s statement

In a statement, Houston Methodist officials said they had received 1,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from the batch of thawed shots. All of those doses had been administered by Monday afternoon, officials said.

“We didn’t waste a drop,” said Robert Schwartz, executive vice president of Houston Methodist Hospital. “It was great for our community that we were able to quickly administer these much-needed vaccines in the middle of the storm.”

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Correction:This story has been corrected to show a Harris County Public Health facility sustained the power outage.


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