Northern California city scrambles to set up emergency COVID-19 vaccine clinic after hospital freezer failure

A team supervised by the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority rallied Monday to administer more than 100 doses of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine before they lost efficacy after the freezer they were being stored in at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley failed.
“We got the call at 12:15 p.m., and we got set up by 1 p.m.,” said UVFA Battalion Chief Eric Singleton, explaining that the city rooms at the Ukiah Valley Conference Center were quickly set up to administer the 10 vials (with approximately 110 doses) of the Covid-19 vaccine before they expired at 2 p.m.
Singleton said his department’s paramedics, who were already training in preparation for participating in vaccination clinics later this week, administered the doses, and he also commandeered other city employees to help facilitate the intake and administration of the doses. “I told them, you’re working for me today!”
When asked how the process went, Singleton said his department is definitely used to having to respond quickly to emergent situations without time to prepare.
“We work well in emergencies and chaos, because that’s when people call us,” said Singleton, adding that the UVFA had an engine at two other sites where the vaccines were being administered Monday in case anyone had an adverse reaction. “We called in off-duty staff, and the crews did an amazing job stepping up for the community in a time of need.”
Singleton said everyone who received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine Monday “already had an appointment set up to get their second.”
City Manager Sage Sangiacomo said that the city administered approximately 110 doses of the vaccine Monday afternoon, many of which were given to city employees, but also many members of the general public were vaccinated on a “first-come, first-served basis.”
“There were employees of Redwood Community Services, which manages the Building Bridges homeless shelter, as well as employees of Manzanita Services and teachers who received doses at the conference center,” said Sangiacomo, adding that employees from Mendocino County Public Health as well as Coastal Valley EMS assisted with the clinic.
Mendocino County Chief Executive Officer Carmel Angelo said Monday evening that the vaccines needing to be used by 2 p.m. Jan. 4 were not county doses, but had been directly delivered to Adventist Health, which administers the three hospitals in Mendocino County.
“There are three entities currently receiving Covid-19 vaccines in the county: Public Health, Adventist Health, and the pharmacies CVS and Walgreens,” said Angelo, explaining that county officials were called around 11 a.m. and told that several hundred vaccines needed to be administered by 2 p.m. due to a lack of refrigeration.
“We were given 94 doses of the vaccine, and we administered those 94 to county employees such as jail staff, sheriff’s deputies and other staff members,” said Angelo, explaining that while the previous county allocations had carefully followed the tier process outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health for prioritizing administration of the vaccine, “During an emergency, the tier goes out the window.”
Angelo later clarified that in fact 400 of the 830 doses of the Moderna vaccine were technically Public Health doses that had been delivered directly to Adventist Health facilities. She explained that before the county received an ultra-low temperature freezer that could store the Pfizer vaccines, they gave the hospital address as the one the vaccines should be delivered to, so a box of 400 Moderna doses for the county was also delivered to the hospital.
Cici Winiger, spokeswoman for Adventist Health, said that a freezer at the Ukiah hospital failed around 2 a.m. Jan 4, and “the alarm that was supposed to inform staff of a malfunction also did not work.” Due to a “manual process, staff was able to determine that the freezer malfunctioned around 2 a.m., which meant that the vaccines would not longer be viable after 2 p.m., since they are only viable for 12 hours after being thawed out.”
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Winiger said that the hospital “leadership team was informed of the issue at 11:35 a.m., (then) we called Public Health, nursing homes and other partner agencies.” She said 200 doses were given to Mendocino County Public Health for “administration at the county jail, we delivered some 80 to nursing homes, and we set up clinics at four locations.”
Winiger confirmed that members of the general public were also given the vaccine Monday. When asked how those people were notified of the availability of the vaccine, she said “we sent out a mass text to all staff and partner agencies to let everyone know, but it was mostly word of mouth for the most part.”
She reported that “all individuals who were vaccinated received vaccination cards and will be contacted for theirsecond dose in 28 days.”

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