D.C. Residents Surprised to Be Offered Soon-to-Expire Vaccine Doses While Shopping for Groceries
Fast-thinking pharmacists offered extra shots to a few lucky members of the public in the face of a slow vaccine rollout
A few lucky D.C. residents got more than groceries at their local supermarket.
Two social media users said that they were able to get vaccinated while they were out grocery shopping, thanks to fast-acting pharmacists who thought to quickly administer doses that were about to expire. Rather than letting the remaining doses go bad after a day of inoculating health care workers, the pharmacists offered them to shoppers.
One was David MacMillan, a law student who got his first dose of the Moderna vaccine along with a friend at Giant Food in D.C.
"She turned to us and was like, 'Hey, I've got two doses of the vaccine and I'm going to have to throw them away if I don't give them to somebody. We close in 10 minutes. Do you want the Moderna vaccine?" he told NBC Washington.
Another D.C. resident, 51-year-old Franck Le Bousse, said he was at his local Safeway supermarket when a pharmacist said that he had a dozen extra doses of the Moderna vaccine that would expire if no one took them before the pharmacy closed in an hour. Le Bousse called his wife, Beth Miller, to meet him there immediately.
"I just grabbed my coat and ran to Safeway," she told The Washington Post. She got there just after her husband got his shot, and said "he looked like he won the lottery." Le Bousse posted a photo of his vaccine card on Instagram with the caption: "Went grocery shopping... Got a vaccine!"
MacMillan said that he's scheduled to get his second dose of the vaccine at the end of the month.
"Obviously the pharmacist is the hero here. She only had a short period of time and she wanted to make sure that as many people got vaccinated as possible. So props to her, absolutely," he told NBC Washington.
Across the country, a hospital in Northern California also had doses that were about to expire — but on a much larger scale. On Monday morning, the staff at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Mendocino County realized that the freezer holding 830 doses of the Moderna vaccine had stopped working. They managed to inoculate 600 people in two hours.
Moderna's vaccine has to be kept at about 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and once it reaches room temperature it must be used within 12 hours. By the time the Adventist staff noticed the freezer malfunction, they estimated they had about two hours to give out all of the doses.
"At that point it was all hands on deck, drop everything," Cici Winiger, an Adventist spokesperson, told the Los Angeles Times.
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The staff quickly set up four pop-up vaccination sites and were instructed to "tell everyone you know" that they should come and get a vaccine dose.
"We just wanted to make sure none of this goes to waste," Winiger said.
In two hours, they were able to administer all 600 shots, including to 40 staffers at a nearby nursing home. Adventist also gave 200 doses to the Mendocino County government, which used 97 to inoculate staff at a nearby jail.
Since the Food and Drug Administration approved two vaccines — from Moderna and Pfizer — in December, rollout has been slower than the Trump administration promised, largely due to a lack of instruction or infrastructure for the local hospitals and governments who are tasked with distributing the vaccine. The Trump administration had said it would inoculate 20 million Americans by the end of December, but by the end of the month just 2.7 million had received their first dose.
"We know it should be better, and we are working hard to make it better," Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser to the federal vaccine effort, said in a press conference on Dec. 30.
President Donald Trump, who has largely stopped working on fixing the COVID-19 pandemic since he lost his re-election bid in November, said that states were to blame.
"It is up to the States to distribute the vaccines once brought to the designated areas by the Federal Government," Trump tweeted on Dec. 29. "We have not only developed the vaccines, including putting up money to move the process along quickly, but gotten them to the states."
President-elect Joe Biden had called out the Trump administration's vaccine rollout a day earlier, and vowed to improve it once he takes office on Jan. 20.
"This will take more time than anyone will like and more time than the promises from the Trump administration has suggested ... [but] I'm going to move Heaven and Earth to get us going in the right direction," Biden said.