What happened? Vaccines nearly ruined in Houston area as winter storm bears down

HOUSTON – This has been a week many people will never forget. Snow, ice, power outages, water shortages, you name it and residents are living it.

But beyond the baffling buckling of the state’s energy infrastructure and municipal water systems, this week has also been a test for COVID-19 vaccine storage.

“With the power out, we all know those vaccines need to be kept in cold storage,” said Judge Lina Hidalgo at a press conference earlier this week.

On Monday, Harris County Public Health came dangerously close to wasting more than 8,400 COVID-19 Moderna vaccines when the power went out and then a backup generator failed.

Harris County Public Health officials said, “It is tested weekly, and it was tested the day before it failed.”

“We got to work under the mission to avoid losing the vaccine with the lack of power,” said Hildago.

To the public health agency’s credit, in short order in the dead of night in a storm, not a single shot was wasted, according to the county.

More than 5,400 of those vaccines were rushed to three hospitals, Rice University and the Harris County Jail.

Thousands were then administered on the fly, but some were returned.

Of that original 8,430 vaccines, 4,700 doses are back in storage with Moderna’s blessing.

That is one problem solved.

I missed my second vaccine appointment - now what?

Another storm-related vaccine issue is still out there.

KPRC 2′s Facebook page was filled with folks concerned about missing their vaccine appointments this week, especially those who are receiving doses two of the vaccine.

Many places were closed and of course, the roads were impossible to travel.

For Esmeralda Torres, who hasn’t had power and water for days, it’s yet another stress point.

“Horrible for my family for my kids,” said Torres. “I could never imagine we were going to go through this.”

This week, Harris County sent out messages informing patients their second doses would be rescheduled and that process is starting now.

But we wanted to know if extending the window lessens the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“We do want to get as close as we can to the window but if we do have to extend that out. Our thought is the benefit is still there,” said Dr. Deepti Mishra, VP and CMO, Memorial Hermann Medical Group.

Data about what happens once you move outside of six weeks between COVID-19 vaccines is sparse. But one expert says if you can keep it close, you are probably OK.

“It’s still better to receive the second vaccine than to not get the vaccine at all,” said Mishra.

“These times are very hard for everybody and everybody is struggling right now,” said Torres. “Just be patient because everybody is going through a hard time.”

We asked Harris County Public Health about the cold storage failure and if they planned on making any changes moving forward. The short answer is no, they believe they have the proper protocols in place.

Here’s more of what they sent us:

KPRC 2 question: How do you help ensure this does not happen again?

Answer: We have back up refrigeration in place through a few partners, but due to the unsafe travel conditions our staff could not get to the office quickly to check on the vaccine after the power went out and the generator failed. We have protocols in place for all of our vaccines to ensure they stay in the correct temperature by using sensaphones that alert our team when the vaccine is getting close to a high temperature or when power fails. That worked correctly.