British Columbia

'Vaccine flash mob' of nearly 200 people showed up at a Haida Gwaii clinic so doses wouldn't go to waste

A call went out to residents of Masset, Old Massett and the surrounding area asking people to head to the clinic, last minute, to get a COVID-19 vaccine before they spoiled.

182 island residents vaccinated early after emergency callout when vials began warming in storage

Chris (left) and Elin Ashurst were two of 182 people to be vaccinated early in Masset after a cold chain broke and vaccines needed to be distributed immediately. (Submitted by Chris Ashurst)

Chris Ashurst was out looking for a lost dog east of Masset on Haida Gwaii one evening in late March when a truck whizzed by and someone shouted out of the cab: "The cold chain is broken, get your vaccine now!"

"That sounded like a great idea to me," said Ashurst, 47.

After finding the dog and returning it to its owner, he drove home to pick up his wife Elin so they could drive into Masset. On the way, his phone lit up with text messages saying the cold chain — the refrigeration system for COVID-19 vaccines — had broken at the local clinic. 

That meant a batch of vaccines in storage were warming to a temperature where they would soon be rendered useless, and needed to be used quickly.

Staff at the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital put out a call to the community in and around Masset, primarily via text message, asking them to come to the clinic as quickly as possible to receive a vaccine before they all spoiled. 

 

Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins said 182 people were vaccinated that night, and not a single dose of vaccine was wasted. People stood in line at the clinic into the early hours of the next morning.

Those vaccinated included Ashurst and his wife.

Ashurst described the whole situation as a "vaccine flash mob," and said people in the lineup were jovial and excited to see friends — while staying two metres apart, of course. 

"Nothing changed that night, but it was just the sense that [the end of the pandemic] was on the horizon, we're seeing some kind of meaningful progress in getting past this," he said.

Chris Ashurst, 47, received his COVID-19 immunization a week early when a 'vaccine flash mob' was held to save vaccines improperly stored from spoiling in Masset, B.C. (Submitted by Chris Ashurst)

Ashurst was scheduled to receive his vaccine the following week, as Haida Gwaii had been scheduled for a whole community immunization. In February, 1.65 per cent of the archipelago's population tested positive for COVID-19, the highest rate in the province. 

"It was nice to get in early and we got to cancel our appointments and free up more room so everyone on island moved up the line," he said. 

"It's a testament, I think, to the nature of smaller communities where a call can go out from the staff and word quickly spreads," Collins said.

The break in the cold chain was due to "a simple matter of human error" when a fridge door at the clinic was not properly closed, Collins said.

To hear the interview with Chris Ashurst click here: 

When the refrigeration unit storing vaccines in the Haida Gwaii community of Masset failed, residents rushed to get a shot before they expired. 4:12

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