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Broken freezer sends hundreds to Seattle clinic in middle of the night for expiring vaccine doses

Hundreds were lined up outside of a UW Medical Center clinic late Thursday night. (Feliks Banel, KIRO Radio)

A peculiar scene played out in Seattle late between Thursday night and early Friday morning, after hundreds of people roused themselves out of bed in hopes of receiving COVID-19 vaccine doses that were hours away from expiring.

Vaccine appointment process a headache for Washingtonians

This came after clinics were set up by Kaiser Permanente, who had 1,600 vaccine doses that were set to expire at 5:30 a.m. on Friday thanks to an unexpected freezer failure.

KIRO Radio’s Feliks Banel found out around 11 p.m. Thursday after receiving a text from a friend. Thirty minutes later, he and his wife found themselves waiting outside one of those clinics at UW Medical Center’s Northwest campus in Seattle.

By 11:30 p.m., the parking lot was full, with hundreds of people already standing in line. Forty-five minutes after they’d arrived, the line still hadn’t moved.

“The mood was calm and sedate, like people waiting overnight to buy tickets for a concert that was going to take place many months in the future (like I did at least once back in the 1980s for REM at the Boston Garden),” he described. “It never felt panicky or scary, but it seemed somewhat surreal to be out that late for something so serious.”

After some scouting ahead of the line, they found out that in addition to the hundreds of people waiting outside, another 200 were also lined up inside. The facility supposedly only had 500 total doses available for the assembled crowd.

Where to get vaccinated in Washington state

Around 12:15 a.m., a UW staffer began informing people past a certain point in line that “they were not likely to get a shot based on the number of people ahead and the number of doses left.”

Feliks and his wife decided to pack up and head home following that announcement, capping off a surreal night for all involved.

“It was a bizarre experience, completely consistent with all the other new and strange experiences of the past year or so — social distancing, toilet paper shortages, masking up, drive-through COVID testing — and gave me even more appreciation for my parents’ much more traumatic individual experiences in wartime Europe 80 years ago,” he detailed.

The UW Medical Center told The Seattle Times it managed to distribute every dose it had of the expiring vaccine. It’s unclear whether Swedish and Kaiser clinics saw similar success for their hospitals’ clinics.

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