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Winter Weather Disrupts Some COVID-19 Vaccination Sites

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Across the country, the extreme weather has halted vaccination clinics and led to the delayed shipments of coronavirus vaccines. As NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, wintry mixes from the Carolinas up through the East Coast today are adding to the complications.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Amid widespread power outages in Houston this week, one vaccination site lost backup power to a freezer filled with thousands of doses of the Moderna vaccine. As they began to thaw, county officials scrambled. They called the head of a local hospital.

MARC BOOM: They said, can you take a thousand and get it into patients' arms in three hours? And we said, we'll make it work.

AUBREY: That's Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist. He explains they created a pop-up vaccination clinic on the fly and then rallied people who lived in walking distance to come quickly.

BOOM: And we literally got there, took a look around and said, yeah, those tables will work. And I sat down and grabbed the supplies and started vaccinating. And we kind of put a call out across the organization and physicians just showed up in droves.

AUBREY: Boom says the hospital did have to postpone shots for two days earlier in the week, but now the plan is to reschedule everyone and extend capacity to catch up quickly. It's a different story in Missouri, where the governor has closed all state-sponsored vaccination sites through Friday due to the extreme weather. People with canceled appointments have been told they may want to look for alternative vaccination sites. Here's Christopher Ave of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

CHRISTOPHER AVE: A lot of people are frustrated and impatient, I would say.

AUBREY: After securing an appointment, it is a setback to hear it's canceled. But Ave says many residents in St. Louis County will have an option for this weekend.

AVE: Fortunately for us, we have a mass vaccination event this Saturday, and that event is still on. We are asking anyone interested in participating to register with the state vaccine site.

AUBREY: Of course, registering does not guarantee an appointment because, as is the case nationwide, demand for the vaccine far exceeds supplies. And the extreme weather has stretched available doses even further given delays in shipments, says Claire Hannan of the Association of Immunization Managers.

CLAIRE HANNAN: Shipping of Moderna vaccine goes out through Memphis, and, you know, they've been unable to ship. And shipping of Pfizer vaccine goes out of Michigan, and they've had issues due to weather as well.

AUBREY: And the impacts may be felt nationwide. In Las Vegas, for instance, several thousand people have been asked to reschedule their appointments due to the delayed shipments of Moderna vaccine. These are temporary delays, and Claire Hannan says the hope is they get back on track quickly. But with more winter weather, there is ongoing concern. Rodrigo Martinez of CIC Health, which operates several mass vaccination sites in Massachusetts, including at Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park, says they have backup plans in the event of power outages.

RODRIGO MARTINEZ: There's a backup line. And the backup line is connected to a generator. If for some reason, the main line shuts down - let's say a storm hits it or something - within 10 seconds, the backup line comes alive. So then we ensure that those vaccines are kept as they should.

AUBREY: Martinez says there's even a backup to the backup to physically drive the doses to a local hospital in the event generators fail. But he says they are prepared. Their stadium site is administering thousands of shots a day and can do more if, as is the case nationwide, supplies continue to increase. Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.