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caption: Swedish Medical Center sent out a midnight tweet Thursday night, announcing 588 coronavirus vaccines immediately available. They would expire at 3:30 a.m. People came in droves.
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Swedish Medical Center sent out a midnight tweet Thursday night, announcing 588 coronavirus vaccines immediately available. They would expire at 3:30 a.m. People came in droves.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Esmy Jimenez

A freezer breaks, and a mad scramble ensues to vaccinate hundreds of Seattleites overnight

A freezer malfunction at Kaiser Permanente on Thursday led to an impromptu effort to vaccinate folks who could show up in the middle of the night.

Once the problem was discovered, 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine were given to UW Medicine, and almost 600 were given to Swedish Medical Center.

Swedish Hospital sent out a tweet that said they needed people to come in for vaccinations.

“URGENT: We have 588 DOSE 1 MODERNA appointments available Jan. 28 11 p.m. to Jan. 29 2 a.m. Click link to book. For additional slots through to 2 a.m. click on SHOW MORE and select TOMORROW. Must be Phase 1a or Phase 1B / Tier 1.”

These tiers include essential workers and older folks awake at this time of night. By early morning, those tiers wouldn’t matter.

People came in droves – by car, by foot, willing to spend hours under cover of night and parking garage.

At 2 a.m., people got tired of standing, and sat down on the concrete. Hospital staff would walk by periodically to count how many people remained, and how many would get vaccinated in the night. It seemed they had processed about half the group there.

At 3 a.m., staff said there were about 30 vaccines left, but they would expire at 3:30 a.m. Police, students, anyone could get it now. That includes this reporter who was among the last to get vaccinated and managed to wake up one other person to come in last minute, after a series of late night phone calls.

As night became morning, more staff came in and cheered the overnight crew. Their efforts had not been in vain: No vaccines went to waste.

During a press conference Friday, Dr. Jeff Duchin from Public-Health Seattle King County said he was proud of the collaborative effort across the three health care providers.

"We did tell them [health care workers] that it would be better to give this vaccine to someone who was not eligible if they couldn't find enough eligible people in the middle of the night, than to throw it away. That's the last thing we want to do."

There have been other stories of surprise vaccine availability, of pharmacists calling over the loudspeaker that vaccine doses are available before the store closes.

Recently, a vaccine crew in Josephine County, Oregon, got stuck on a snowy highway and went car to car until they found people willing to receive the vaccine.

Kaiser Permanente says they are inspecting all their refrigerators to make sure they are working correctly.

Starting February 1, King County will also open two new vaccination sites in Auburn and Kent. Public Health says they have enough shots for 500 people per day, 6 days a week, with the goal of serving those who are at highest risk from Covid-19 and face barriers to accessing vaccine through traditional healthcare systems.

If you are eligible for a vaccine, register here for an appointment.