In 1925, residents in the remote Alaskan town of Nome faced a grave crisis as a diphtheria epidemic swept through the city. At great personal risk, teams of sled dogs ferried a serum 674 miles through the brutal winter, saving thousands of lives.
Nearly 100 years later, a group of plucky public health workers in rural Oregon played out a similar delivery ― albeit with much lower stakes and far less danger.
Twenty Josephine County Public Health staffers got stuck in a snowstorm for three to four hours on their way back from a COVID-19 vaccination event rural southern Oregon on Tuesday. With six remaining doses of the vaccine on hand and limited time to administer them before they expired, the group traipsed down Highway 199, offering vaccinations to their fellow snowbound drivers.
“Recipients had been identified in Grants Pass, but the snow meant those doses wouldn’t make it to them before they expired,” JCPH said in a Facebook post. “Not wanting to waste any doses, dedicated JCPH staff members began walking from car to car, offering stranded motorists a chance at receiving the vaccine.”
Jason Roberts, the public information officer for Josephine County, told HuffPost that staff approached around 40 cars offering the vaccine. Most people “were polite and/or bemused” but turned down the offer.
“Of course, six jumped at the chance to be vaccinated,” he said. “Staff had equipment in hand, so there wasn’t much convincing to be done.”
An ambulance and the requisite medical personnel were on the scene in case any of the recipients had an adverse reaction.
JCPH Director Michael Weber told The New York Times that one man was so enthusiastic “he took his shirt off and jumped out of his car.”
“Honestly, once we knew we weren’t going to be back in town in time to use the vaccine, it was just the obvious choice,” he told the publication. “Our No. 1 rule right now is nothing gets wasted.”
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