Wearing bathrobes, pajamas or whatever else they could quickly throw on, hundreds of people flocked to get Covid vaccines in Seattle on Thursday night after a refrigerator that was chilling 1,600 doses broke down, leading to a frenzied overnight inoculation drive.
The impromptu vaccinations began after a refrigerator malfunctioned at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Seattle, meaning the Moderna vaccines inside had to be quickly injected or they would become less effective and need to be thrown away. Health officials reached out to two other hospital systems in the city, and an urgent call was issued around 11 p.m., alerting residents that they had a rare chance to get vaccines if they could come right away.
“We’ve got to get these 1,600 doses into people’s arms in the next 12 hours,” Susan Mullaney, Kaiser’s regional president for Washington, said at a virtual news conference on Friday, describing the hospital’s call to action.
Within minutes, there were long lines outside of at least two medical centers, and by about 3:30 a.m., the vaccines had all been administered, hospital officials said.
In interviews with local television stations, the arriving patients said they had been relaxing at home, washing dishes or watching the news when they saw that they suddenly had a chance to get a shot. One couple said their daughter had called after they were in bed to say that she had signed them up for an appointment at 1 a.m.
“We didn’t have time to dress up, so I just came as I am,” the mother said, motioning toward her husband, who was wearing a bathrobe.
The rush to inoculate in Seattle was only the latest instance in which a breakdown in the process forced health officials to give the vaccines to anyone they could find. The situation also highlights the challenge posed by the two vaccines that have so far been approved in the United States — both need to be kept cold. Earlier this week, health workers stuck in a snowstorm in Oregon walked from car to car, asking stranded drivers if they wanted a shot, after realizing that the doses they were transporting might expire as they waited on the highway.
Seattle hospital officials told local news outlets that they had tried to prioritize older patients and others who were already eligible for vaccines in the state, but they said their first priority had been to give out all of the vaccines before they expired.
“We are tired, but we are inspired,” Kevin Brooks, the chief operating officer of Swedish Health Services, one of two hospitals that administered the vaccines, said in a statement. “It was touching to see grandmas in wheelchairs at 2 a.m. being vaccinated.”
Ms. Mullaney, the Kaiser regional president, said that every refrigerator and freezer at the Seattle location had since been tested and were all working properly.