A Freezer Failure at Ukiah Valley Medical Forces a Rapid Deployment of 830 COVID-19 Vaccines

After a compressor malfunctioned in a Ukiah Valley Medical freezer, 830 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had two hours to be administered before they spoiled. Adventist Health and Mendocino County leadership acted quickly and were able to administer every single dose in what Mendocino County CEO Carmel Angelo referred to as a “mass vaccination event.”

The freezer failure and subsequent mass distribution event caught the attention of media outlets throughout the country including the Los Angeles TimesCBS News, and The Hill.

President of Adventist Health Ukiah Judson Howe said that on Monday at approximately 2:00 a.m., a freezer’s compressor housing 830 doses of the Moderna vaccine malfunctioned. President Howe said the Adventist Health Ukiah leadership team was informed of the malfunction at 11:30 a.m. Upon further investigation, as part of a manual process to monitor the freezer temperature, it was determined that the freezer malfunctioned at around 2:00 AM, which meant the hospital had until 2:00 p.m. to administer them since Moderna vaccines are viable for 12 hours after being thawed out.

Chief Medical Officer for Adventist Health in Mendocino County Dr. Bessant Parker said hospital staff were in the middle of an executive meeting when they learned of the situation. Dr. Parker acted quickly, knowing “that I could not sleep if I let 830 doses go down the drain.” Dr. Parker said Adventist Health staff “stopped everything, got all hands on deck, and mobilized everyone” to administer 830 doses of the vaccine in the following two hours.

CEO Angelo said the County was informed of the vaccination opportunity at 11:30 a.m. being told they had to “either use it or lose it.” Approximately 60 county employees were gathered to be inoculated and the Department Operations Center was able to collaborate with infrastructure and public safety staff to provide them the vaccine.

Mendocino County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren said that the collaboration between Adventist Health, Mendocino County Department of Public Health, the jail and their medical contractors, three skilled nursing facilities, a church, Ukiah Police, and EMTs, medical personnel were able to successfully vaccinate 830 people before the vaccines expired.

President Howe said Adventist Health was able to dispatch two vaccine shipments to both of Ukiah’s skilled nursing facilities Redwood Cove and Ukiah Post Acute.

 Dr. Bessant explained that Adventist Health nursing staff were also deployed to the various entities to actually administer the vaccines. 

Ukiah Valley Medical Public Information Officer Cici Winiger said two hundred of the doses were sent to the County for use in the jail.

Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said the vaccines were provided to Sheriff’s Office staff and Mendocino County Jail staff providing relief for the jail’s ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Ukiah Valley Medical Public Information Officer Cici Winiger explained that as soon as the urgency of the situation was realized, “We sent out a text to partner agencies and all staff to tell everyone they know. We somehow had to get as many people as possible here.” Winiger went on to say, “But we also couldn’t just send a mass notification as it might cause congestion and traffic issues. So we had to get the word out fast, but still controlled to use the vaccines and benefit the most number of people as possible in a short time.”

With the urgency of the situation in mind, Dr. Coren explained that the state’s tiered approach to vaccination administration was “not possible to observe while we made every effort to avoid  wasting this scarce resource.” He added, “The tiers will be sorted out and we will be able to backfill for those who have not received it yet.”

As word spread of the opportunity to receive the vaccine, President Howe said that over 200 Ukiah Valley residents began to arrive at the four different administration sites across Ukiah where residents could receive their dose. President Howe said nurses collected the information of those who received the vaccine. Vaccinated residents were provided Center for Disease Control Vaccination cards, and the patients will be contacted for their booster shot.

Reflecting on the situation, Dr. Bessant pointed out that over a period of two weeks prior to the freezer’s failure, approximately 800 vaccines were distributed to Mendocino County residents following the tiered protocol provided by the California Department of Public Health. Amazed, he said on Monday afternoon, “We distributed 830 vaccines in two hours.” The herculean effort made by Adventist Health staff was all to “make sure not a single vaccine went to waste.”

President Howe said that the turnout demonstrated the Ukiah community’s “enthusiasm and an appetite for the vaccinations.” 

He said, “we had physicians from partner clinics helping administer the vaccines, staff dropping everything to get it done. It was truly a community effort.” Howe then expressed appreciation for the Mendocino County Department of Public Health and other nurses and physicians of the community for “helping us out.”

 Dr. Coren said, “Our county partnerships made this a success story.”

Categories: COVID-19

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