The last shots were given at about 3:45 AM, out on the street, with literally no time to spare.
All night, staff and volunteers with Seattle’s Swedish Health Services had been rushing to administer hundreds of doses of the coronavirus vaccine set to expire early in the morning after a freezer malfunction. Finally, they had only a few dozen shots left and about 15 minutes to get them into people’s arms.
“We were literally like . . .who can get people here? People started texting and calling and we were just counting down,” said Kevin Brooks, the chief operating officer of Swedish, who helped coordinate everything at their clinic at Seattle University. “Thirty-seven. Thirty-five. Thirty-three . . . People were showing up and running down the hall.”
By the last shots, staff and volunteers were running out to the road on a cold night, at one point jabbing someone through the window of a car, Brooks said. One elderly woman in flip flops was photographed rolling up her sleeve on the sidewalk just as the clock ran out.
It was a familiar story: Faced with expiring vials, health-care workers distribute vaccine doses at top speed, sometimes to whomever they can find. These impromptu giveaways have been controversial at times, with both waste and out-of-turn vaccinations sparking anger. Officials are juggling strict plans meant to prioritize the most vulnerable with the urgency of inoculating as many people as possible as quickly as possible against a deadly virus.
In the end, none of the more than 1,600 soon-to-expire doses in Seattle were wasted, health officials said, after a colossal scramble that showcased both the enormous pressure on those immunizing millions of Americans and the hope these vaccine doses have brought. The rollout of shots nationwide has been plagued with bottlenecks, frustrations and disagreements over who should get protection first. But Thursday night and Friday morning were full of purpose and joy, with eager people lined up in pajamas, frenzied activity and at one point a rendition of happy birthday.
Since the early days of the pandemic, Brooks said, “We’re the front lines of this, and it was a long year. And now we’re also shouldering the great blessing and burden of vaccinating the community.”
“The term we use is, we’re tired and we’re inspired,” he said. “And those two things are true at the same time.”
Swedish and UW Medicine gave out doses of the Moderna vaccine, which requires two shots spread apart by multiple weeks. All of the people who got shots overnight will receive second doses, no matter their priority in the vaccine rollout, health leaders said.
The race began at around 9 pm., as officials at Swedish and another group, UW Medicine, learned that a refrigeration issue had caused doses at Kaiser Permanente to thaw.