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Vaccination centers in Whatcom address appointment ‘no-shows’, ‘vaccine chasers’

COVID-19 vaccines must be administered in a timely manner

A patient receives the COVID-19 vaccine shot. The Sea Mar and PeaceHealth vaccination centers in Whatcom deal with ‘extra’ vaccination situations. // Courtesy of Steven Cornfield

By Adela Cruz

Whatcom County vaccination centers try to avoid wasting COVID-19 vaccines by communicating guidelines with the Whatcom County Health Department and establishing protocols.

Vaccine chasers” are people who may or may not be officially able to secure an appointment to get the COVID-19 vaccine administered. They wait in unofficial lines outside vaccination sites in hopes of getting expiring vaccines that would otherwise go to waste.

For the week of Feb. 8, Whatcom County allocated 3,275 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. This is about 2,000 more doses than allocated for the week of Feb. 2

As Washington state attains more vaccines, clinics will run into unique situations of dealing with expiring or “extra” vaccines at the end of the day. Some health care workers are unaware that state guidelines do not block them from giving unused shots to people who are below top-tier priority. 

“Sea Mar has contacted the [Health Department], and they said that if we run into [vaccine chasers], to go ahead and administer vaccines. We won’t waste any doses,” said Kristina Hoeschen, chief compliance officer at Sea Mar Community Health Centers. “[However], we have not run into issues where people don’t show up for their vaccination appointments.” 

During the week of Feb. 7-13, the PeaceHealth vaccination clinic site in Bellingham received a late and unexpected number of 975 vaccine doses.

“We keep a list of those people who are in line for a vaccine — currently, it’s been people in the 1a healthcare worker category — and we contact them if it looks like we will have any leftover so they can pop over to the clinic,” said Beverly Mayhew, director of marketing and communications at PeaceHealth in an email to The Western Front.  

COVID-19 vaccines have to be administered in a timely manner because of the cold chain, meaning vaccines must be kept below a certain temperature until use. 

According to the Moderna COVID-19 Storage and Handling Summary by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Vaccine vials may be stored in the refrigerator between 2°C and 8°C for up to 30 days” or “may be stored in a freezer between -25°C and -15°C.”

 CDC guidelines for the preparation and administration for the Moderna vaccines state that once the vaccines are thawed, they cannot be refrozen and must be administered in under 6 hours, or else they expire.

According to the World Health Organization,  half of immunization doses go to waste worldwide because vaccines are improperly stored and go to waste. 

As of Feb. 5, Whatcom County residents in either phase 1A or 1B Tier 1 are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Those qualified include everyone 65 years and older, 50-or-older residents located in multigenerational homes, high-risk health care workers and first responders.

“While I do think that it is unfair to those in groups [1A and 1B Tier 1], I do not think it is unethical to vaccinate those waiting in line,” said Julian Markfield, a Whatcom County resident who has received the COVID-19 vaccine. “You cannot fault people for taking advantage of opportunities within the system.”

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