News Briefs

Winter weather delays COVID vaccine shipments to Missouri health departments

By: - February 18, 2021 12:08 pm

MU Health Care Executive Director of Pharmacy and Laboratory Brad Myers, PharmD, left, and MU Health Care Acute Care Pharmacy Manager Drew Jett unload MU Health Care’s first allotment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine arrives at University Hospital on Dec. 15, 2020 in Columbia (Photo courtesy of Justin Kelley/MU Health Care)

Days of bitter cold and snowy roads have delayed shipments of COVID-19 vaccine to health departments across Missouri — although many are hopeful they’ll still arrive this week.

An estimated 186,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have been delayed in transit due to the weather, Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services, said Friday. That number includes both prime and booster doses.

Over a dozen mass vaccination events supported by the Missouri National Guard were also canceled Monday due to the extreme winter weather. Vaccine shipments are sent directly to local providers and are not stored in a state warehouse.

Lynelle Paro, the assistant bureau chief for the Department of Health and Senior Services’ Bureau of Immunizations, told vaccinators on a call Tuesday that federal partners hoped to start fulfilling orders Wednesday for shipments to potentially arrive Thursday.

“However, that still is going to be weather dependent,” Paro said.

Cox said information is being passed along to vaccinators as the state learns more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They’re working to adapt plans as needed,” Cox said.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health had originally expected a vaccine shipment Tuesday, and now expects 3,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine to arrive Friday, Christopher Ave, a spokesman for the department said.

A mass vaccination clinic scheduled for Saturday will not be affected by the delay, as the 2,200 doses expected to be administered are from a separate stream, Ave said.

In Columbia, MU Health Care announced Wednesday that it would postpone appointments for initial doses that were previously scheduled for Friday at Faurot Field due to a delay of 4,000 Moderna doses. Appointments for the booster shot of Pfizer’s vaccine would continue as planned on Friday.

“We still hope to receive the vaccine in time to hold our Moderna first-dose events schedule for Sunday, Feb. 21, but appointments scheduled for Friday, Feb. 19 will be postponed,” Brad Myers, MU Health Care’s director of pharmacy and laboratory services said in a statement Wednesday.

But by Thursday afternoon the shipment of 4,000 Moderna doses had still not arrived, causing MU Health Care to also postpone its appointments scheduled Sunday for the initial dose. MU Health Care will reach out to those with appointments to reschedule, according to a news release.

The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services also tweeted Wednesday that a shipment of 200 Moderna doses would be delayed. 

Scott Clardy, the assistant director of the department, said they had hoped to tentatively hold a clinic Thursday, but had not yet scheduled appointments due to the possible delays.

“We’ve just been told that we will get an email notifying us of the shipment and when we can expect it once it’s shipped,” Clardy said. “And that’s really all that anybody can tell us at this point.”

Residents will be contacted by the department when vaccine is available. While the department was not waiting on booster doses to arrive, Clardy said others are.

“We are seeing delays in shipments and are concerned that we may not have enough for second doses of Pfizer and will have to reschedule appointments until we get the doses for the second clinic,” Michelle Pekarsky, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City Health Department, said Friday.

Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines require two shots, spaced out three and four weeks respectively. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the booster dose may be given up to six weeks after the initial shot if that interval can’t be met.

The Clay County Public Health Center does not anticipate receiving new vaccine shipments for the next few weeks, as it is focusing on administering booster doses to residents it vaccinated with earlier shipments, Kelsey Neth, a spokeswoman with the health center said.

However, a majority of the department’s limited allocation of doses is currently going toward Operation Safe, a collaboration between community partners to vaccinate residents in the Kansas City area.

“That site, made possible through Liberty Hospital and North Kansas City Hospitals who are one of the state’s high throughput vaccinators, have been impacted,” Neth said. “Their doses have not arrived this week due to the weather and we have postponed our Friday and Saturday clinics.”

In Jackson County, appointments haven’t been affected by a delayed shipment, as the county health department is waiting for it to arrive first.

“We usually don’t fill appointments until we have the vaccine on hand for the express reason of not wanting to inconvenience people,” Kayla Parker, a spokeswoman for the Jackson County Health Department said Thursday. “We are hopeful that it arrives today or tomorrow so we can schedule appointments for next week.”

In Texas, some health departments and hospitals had to scramble to give out thousands of doses of vaccine after power outages hit storage facilities and the winter weather led to canceled appointments.

Parker and Clardy said that hasn’t been an issue their departments have encountered.

“We have not lost power and we have generators available,” Parker said. “Additionally, we use dry ice for our Pfizer vaccine, so it’s not dependent on power, so therefore we haven’t had any issues.”

Alex Garza, the incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, urged residents to stay safe traveling to appointments and to remain patient.

“If the snow impacted your plans to get vaccinated, please continue to be patient while those vaccinators rescheduled those appointments,” Garza said during a briefing Wednesday.  “They will get to you.”

This story has been updated since it was first published.

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Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covered education, health care and the legislature with the Missouri Independent. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She also covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.