California hospital distributes 850 vaccines in 2.5 hours when refrigerator fails

A Northern California hospital has shown it’s possible to get the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of people fast.

Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center learned Monday morning the refrigerator holding Mendocino County’s most recent distribution of 850 Moderna vaccines had failed.

Racing to beat the clock before the vaccines spoiled, they successfully administered the entire supply in 2.5 hours in collaboration with the county’s health department and skilled nursing facilities.

Judson Howe, the financial officer for the medical center, said they aimed to issue the vaccine to high-risk individuals, but “the highest priority was making sure that nothing went to waste.”

At 11:30 a.m. Monday, Howe and his colleague Bessant Parker, the hospital’s medical officer, received the call that the compressor on the refrigerator was broken. The vaccines need to be stored at a temperature of 36-46 degrees, and they had been sitting at room temperature since 2 a.m.

“Moderna has a 12-hour shelf life at room temperature,” said Howe, who noted that a refrigerator failure is unusual.

Hospital officials acted quickly, treating the situation like an emergency, and devised a plan to issue several dozen vaccines directly to a nursing home and 200 to the county, which administered its allotment to everyone from county workers to jail inmates. They offered the remaining 600 inoculations to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis, with an emphasis on getting the word out to high-risk individuals.

“We set up four vaccination centers, three on our campus and one in a church close by,” said Parker, who added that it took a workforce of about 40 people to administer the shots at the four locations.

They alerted the public through social media and by making phone calls to places such as nursing homes. Employees also helped spread the news.

“Word of mouth is a pretty powerful tool,” said Howe.

Howe added they would have de-centralized the allotment to other locations outside of Ukiah but a semi-truck jackknifed across Highway 101 on Monday morning, making it difficult to transport the vaccines before they fully thawed.

Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center distributed hundreds of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, Jan. 4, 2020, after a refrigerator failed.

Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center distributed hundreds of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, Jan. 4, 2020, after a refrigerator failed.

Courtesy Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center

Ukiah resident Richard Selzer, 68, was among those who jumped on the opportunity Monday. When he arrived at the church set up as a vaccine center with his three adult children at 1:30 p.m., more than 100 mask-wearing people were in line — and only 30 doses remained.

Officials called on seniors to come to the front of the line, and Selzer received a vaccine 15 minutes later. His children did not get vaccinated.

Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center distributed hundreds of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, Jan. 4, 2020, after a refrigerator failed.

Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center distributed hundreds of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, Jan. 4, 2020, after a refrigerator failed.

Courtesy Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center

“It was a little bit like winning the lottery,” said Selzer, who has multiple pre-existing conditions that could complicate a COVID-19 infection. “I certainly wasn’t anticipating getting the vaccine for another month or two. It was bad luck for the hospital that I was able to get it earlier.”

While he said there was a lot of confusion about what was going on, he was amazed by the congeniality of the crowd and how quickly the vaccines were issued.


“When I went through and got the vaccine, everyone was being very cooperative,” Selzer said. “Nobody was saying, ‘No, I need this, not you.’ They certainly can get this vaccine out if they have to. It could have gone really bad. This was good.”