Experts Worry Severe Winter Storms Could Delay COVID Herd Immunity

The deadly winter storm sweeping across the country is hampering states' efforts to distribute coronavirus vaccines. The storm dumped ice and snow and knocked out power for millions of people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the weather has caused "widespread delays" in vaccine shipments.

The severe storms are impacting deliveries from at least two vaccine shipping hubs located in Memphis, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky.

"Shipping partners are working to deliver vaccine where possible, contingent on local conditions, but the adverse weather is expected to continue to impact shipments out of the FedEx facility in Memphis, Tenn., as well as the UPS facility in Louisville, Ken., which serve as vaccine shipping hubs for multiple states," CDC spokesperson Jasmine Reed told NBC News.

Shipping delays are being felt across the country, with Florida and Nevada reporting delays in receiving vaccine shipments.

The weather has forced several states to close down their vaccine sites, including Missouri and New Hampshire. In Texas, where millions of people remain without power amid freezing temperatures, some cities were forced to close down their vaccination centers.

Healthcare workers were forced to improvise as hospitals lost power during the storms. The vaccines need to be kept at sub-zero temperatures and only last a few hours after they are pulled out of cold storage. In Harris County, Texas, officials at a vaccine storage center were forced to distribute nearly 5,500 doses after the backup generator failed.

"We were looking for places where there were already large numbers of people, or where there were, nurses, trained medical professionals who could administer the vaccines, and where we wouldn't need folks to drive somewhere in this very dangerous weather and road conditions," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Health experts are worried that the setbacks could delay the country from reaching herd immunity.

"Any delay now is going to delay the amount of time it takes to get there," Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of public health and health policy at the City University of New York, told NBC News.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a dean at the Baylor College of Medicine who specializes in vaccine delivery, warned that falling behind on vaccinating people could give the virus more time to mutate, which might decrease the efficacy of the vaccines.

"We're in a bit of a race. We're in a race against these variants, so it's really a crisis," Hotez said. "Any vaccine we have now is the time to give it out."

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