Extreme Winter Weather Exacerbated by Climate Crisis Threatens to Hamper COVID Vaccination Efforts

Washington, D.C. – A deadly winter storm fueled by climate change has left 23 individuals in five states dead and 3.4 million without power as of Wednesday afternoon – making Uri one of the worst extreme winter weather events in our country’s history.

Uri is also hindering COVID-19 vaccination efforts across the country as potentially deadlier variants of the virus continue to spread into new communities. In half a dozen states, power outages threaten to spoil vaccine doses, distribution has been severely delayed by interruptions to the postal service, and many vaccination sites have closed as wintery conditions shut down roads.

“Experts have warned for years that our energy grid is failing, and added pressures from the climate crisis are further exacerbating the problems. But climate deniers and opponents to climate action ignored warnings and blocked necessary infrastructure investments, and now, individuals across the country will face further threats from COVID,” said Lori Lodes, Climate Power’s executive director. “This storm and its devastating consequences make it clear that we need bold investment in infrastructure immediately or we will continue to see this deadly scenario play out again and again as the climate crisis worsens.”

The increased COVID dangers directly caused by Uri underscore why climate change — and the urgent need to boldly address this crisis – impacts all aspects of our lives, and without major investments to build a clean energy economy and rebuild our infrastructure, these extreme weather events will become more dangerous and deadlier.

Winter Storm Uri knocked out power in much of Texas after natural gas, coal, and nuclear generators failed. These power outages threaten the existing supply of coronavirus vaccines, which must be kept at very particular temperatures.

Additional threats to COVID vaccine distribution include:

  • As power remains offline in much of Texas, the stability of many vaccines may still be at risk. The rush to distribute vaccines after power outages present many challenges as much of Texas still faces dangerous road conditions and forecasts predict another blast of snow and ice.
  • Treacherous roads across Texas have caused closures at vaccination sites in Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, and Brazos counties and throughout the state for much of the week. Testing sites across Texas have also closed.
  • On Monday, Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced the state would cancel all mass vaccination events through Friday because of the extreme weather.
  • Vaccine sites in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee also faced weather-related closures this week.

Even after this extreme weather passes, there will be lasting effects that will hinder vaccine distribution in Texas and around the country:

  • These distribution disruptions come as public health experts warn that more dangerous variants of the coronavirus may spark a fourth wave this spring.
  • In Texas alone, some 400,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses were delayedas a result of the extreme winter weather.
  • In Kentucky, heavy snow forced UPS to suspend operations at its Worldport hub at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport for the first time ever. This interruption to the postal service will have wide-reaching ripple effects across the country.
  • Officials in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, and Ohio warned that winter storms may delay vaccine deliveries this week.
  • In Miami-Dade County Florida, roughly 2,000 people could not receive their second dose of the vaccine after the winter storms halted shipments.

As the climate crisis worsens, modernizing our infrastructure to withstand extreme weather caused by climate change must be a top priority.