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COVID-19 vaccines rescued by boat amid severe flooding in Kentucky



(LEE COUNTY, Ky.) — After severe flooding almost jeopardized a Kentucky health department’s COVID-19 vaccine storage, a crew of public health and emergency response personnel helped salvage 150 doses via a water rescue, officials said.

Rising waters took out the power at the Lee County Health Department, located in downtown Beattyville, on Sunday night. By Monday, the generators powering the freezers needed to safely store the vaccines were taking on water. So, the public health officials decided they had to get the supply to a safe location.

The local community health nurse said it was “like an episode of ‘The Amazing Race,"” Scott Lockard, public health director for the Kentucky River District Health Department, which includes Lee County, told ABC News. “First, they got her on a dump truck, into a backhoe, and then she got into a jon boat. It’s just amazing what all she went through just to get in there to help get this vaccine rescued.”

After traveling about 500 yards on the boat through flooded streets, two coolers containing 150 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, as well as other vaccines for children, were then brought via four-wheel drive to the health department in neighboring Wolfe County for freezer storage, Lockard said. The transfer was done “according to all the specific guidelines,” he said.

Upwards of 7 inches of rain fell in parts of Kentucky over the weekend, causing major to near-historic river flooding. A state of emergency has been declared in the state.

The flooding is the latest weather crisis to hit the eastern Kentucky mountain area as it continues its COVID-19 vaccine rollout. In the past three weeks, the region has also seen ice storms and sub-zero temperatures, Lockard noted.

“It’s just unbelievable what all we’ve been dealing with. If you told me years ago in public health I’d be doing a water rescue of a vaccine, I would have laughed,” he said.

“The thought of losing 150 doses of life-saving vaccine, we just couldn’t sit by and let that happen,” he added. “We did what we had to do to save this precious resource. … I cannot be more proud.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear praised the public health and emergency management team for their “incredible job” in protecting the vaccine supply.

“Listen, these folks lost a number of vehicles this day, but they did not lose one dose of vaccine,” Beshear said during a briefing Monday night. “They are local heroes.”

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