Stuck in traffic after snow shut down the highway, workers in Josephine County were able to inoculate six other drivers with Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine

By Julie Mazziotta
January 28, 2021 11:55 AM
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Oregon health workers give out vaccine doses to people stuck in traffic
| Credit: Josephine County Public Health/Facebook

Oregon health care workers stuck in a snowstorm with soon-to-expire doses of the COVID-19 vaccine decided to set up an "impromptu vaccine clinic" and inoculate the other stranded drivers.

About 20 employees from the Josephine County Public Health office were on their way back from a COVID-19 vaccination event in a rural part of the county when traffic on the highway came to a halt. The highway had been shut down due to the snow and a jackknifed tracktor-trailer, and with no idea when it would reopen, the six remaining Moderna vaccine doses they had on hand would soon expire.

Those doses were supposed to go to people in Grants Pass, another 30 miles away, but Michael Weber, the public health director, and his staff knew that they wouldn't be able to get the doses to them in time. That's when Weber came up with the idea to give them out to people stuck in their cars.

"I decided to start going door-to-door, car-to-car, offering" the vaccine, Weber, told the Washington Post.

Oregon health workers give out vaccine doses to people stuck in traffic
| Credit: Josephine County Public Health/Facebook

Weber stuck the vaccination paperwork in his coat, while another team member grabbed the bin with the vaccine doses, alcohol and gauze. Other staff members brought a container for the discarded needles and umbrellas for the wet snow. The ambulance that had been on-site at the vaccination event was stuck with them in traffic and was ready to go in the rare case that someone had an allergic reaction.

As they went car-to-car, Weber and his team got mixed reactions to their offer.

"We were a little nervous because not a lot of people in this part of the state are eager to get the vaccine at this point in time," David Candelaria, a health officer, told the Post.

"A lot" of cars turned them down, but the ones who wanted the vaccine were overjoyed at the opportunity.

"We had one individual who was so happy, he took his shirt off and jumped out of the car," Weber told The New York Times.

Oregon health workers give out vaccine doses to people stuck in traffic

It took about 45 minutes, but the team found six people who were thrilled to get their first vaccine dose, including one Josephine County Sheriff's Office employee who was supposed to get her dose at the vaccination event but got there too late.

"It was meant to be for her," Candelaria told the Post.

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Weber said that their car-to-car vaccination effort was "one of the coolest operations" he ever worked on.

"Honestly, once we knew we weren't going to be back in town in time to use the vaccine, it was just the obvious choice," he told the Times. "Our No. 1 rule right now is nothing gets wasted."

As of Jan. 27, Oregon has administered 325,488 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and nationwide, 20,687,970 people have received at least one vaccine dose. After a slow start to the distribution effort, vaccinations have picked up significantly in the last few weeks. President Joe Biden has vowed to give out 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office, and is on track to meet or exceed that goal.