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How The Freeze In Texas Is Affecting COVID-19 Vaccinations

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The winter snow and ice storm that's dipped far into the Deep South is having wide-ranging consequences. At least six people have died in Houston, including two from carbon monoxide poisoning as they ran their car in a garage to keep warm. Also in Texas, millions of homes and businesses are without power, and some cities have no water because backup generators at treatment plants have shut down. The arctic blast is also wreaking havoc on COVID vaccinations in the state. We're joined now by Texas Public Radio health reporter Bonnie Petrie, who is in San Antonio.

Welcome.

BONNIE PETRIE, BYLINE: Thank you very much, Ailsa.

CHANG: So let's start with the vaccinations. How exactly is the cold weather affecting those vaccinations right now?

PETRIE: Well, it has brought them to a stop, basically. Where I am, the mass vaccination clinics were postponed yesterday and today, and they probably will be tomorrow as well. Now, that's because, of course, the snow and the ice, and people around here don't really know how to drive in this stuff. And it is very icy out there. It's dangerous because, you know, it rarely snows, obviously, in south Texas. And there's no salt or sand or anything like that to put on the roads, so it's a mess, and it's really dangerous.

So in San Antonio, we're doing the vaccinations - the mass vaccinations at the Alamodome arena. And tens of thousands of people can be inside. And that's what they don't want - all these people who've signed up for vaccinations trying to drive in on the...

CHANG: Right.

PETRIE: ...Ice from all over and converging on the icy roads downtown.

CHANG: Exactly. Well, in several Southern states today, I understand that vaccination clinics have been postponed all over the place. And as we also know, these second COVID doses - the COVID vaccine doses have to be administered within a pretty specific time frame, right? So are people worried about this?

PETRIE: Well, right. Sure. So people are obviously worried about this, and they're waiting for their second doses in many cases. And the second dose of Pfizer is supposed to be administered 21 days after the first. And Moderna - that's 28 days after the initial shot. But the Centers for Disease Control does say that there is some wiggle room there for those dates. For both of the shots, they can be administered - the second doses - up to six weeks after the first dose.

CHANG: OK, some leeway there. But how are the power outages affecting the storage of COVID vaccines? - 'cause some of them have to be kept in, like, these super-cold freezers.

PETRIE: Right. Right. So that's a problem, right?

CHANG: Yeah.

PETRIE: So in many cases, they're being kept at hospitals where they are on the electric grid, and they're supposed to stay powered up through a situation like this. And they also have backup generators. But there have been some issues. For example, in Houston, power was cut to a facility that was storing Moderna vaccines, and officials had to scramble to find people who could be vaccinated quickly. So here's the top elected official in Harris County, Lina Hidalgo, who explains how they divvied up those 8,000 doses that needed to be administered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINA HIDALGO: We were looking for places where there was already large numbers of people, where there were nurses, trained medical professionals who could administer the vaccines and where we wouldn't need folks to drive somewhere in this very dangerous weather and road conditions.

PETRIE: So they sent 5,000 doses to three local hospitals. The rest went to the county jail and Rice University.

CHANG: That is Bonnie Petrie of Texas Public Radio.

Thank you very much.

PETRIE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.