Shelby County Health Dept. officials discuss state investigation into vaccine waste

Shelby County Health Dept. officials discuss state investigation over vaccine waste

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The director of the Shelby County Health Department answered questions Wednesday about the state’s investigation into vaccine mismanagement in Shelby County.

On Tuesday, Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said more than 2,400 vaccine doses were lost due to expiration this month in Shelby County, and an excess of 30,000 doses were nearing expiration.

SCHD Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter spoke to members of the media Wednesday during a virtual news conference, saying she discovered the vaccine waste and doses nearing expiration when preparing for inclement weather. She says the inventory grew as vaccine appointments were postponed and shipments kept coming.

Haushalter says she tried reaching the state several times but was unsuccessful until Friday, Feb. 19, the same day the state sent personnel to investigate the situation.

Haushalter also says she asked the state not to send any more vaccine to the health department until they could reduce their inventory.

Following the state’s investigation, the Tennessee Department of Health distributed the health department’s current vaccine inventory to community partners for immediate distribution and embedded state personnel in Shelby County to monitor the operation.

Piercey said hospital partners will now handle physical management of the vaccine.

Governor Bill Lee said Wednesday he was “disappointed” in the situation in Shelby County and said the focus now is getting vaccines into arms.

Representative David Kustoff, R-Tennessee, released a statement Wednesday, calling the situation reckless and said leaders within Shelby County Government should be held accountable.

“The mishandling of the COVID-19 vaccine by the administrative leadership of Shelby County Government was highly reckless and those in charge must be held accountable,” said Kustoff.  “As we navigate the current global pandemic, these safe vaccinations are a lifesaver for many across our state and country, and we rely on our counties to help with this effort. Due to gross negligence and possible malfeasance, the Executive Branch of Shelby County Government mishandled and wasted thousands of vaccines, ultimately failing our local community. Thankfully, the Tennessee Department of Health is working with the City of Memphis in order to achieve an efficient and effective distribution process. Without a doubt, local officials should be held accountable. I welcome the further investigation by state authorities and possibly federal authorities into this fiasco.”

Despite the issues, Haushalter says she is not planning on stepping down. She says while she’s at retirement age and has considered it in the past, she considers it her responsibility now to identify inefficiencies and work with the state to improve them moving forward.

Two other SCHD employees -- nursing director Dr. Judy Martin and contract pharmacies Dr. Marilyn Bruce -- have left the department. Haushalter says Martin has retired while Bruce has moved on.

On Tuesday, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said the site manager who managed the relationship with the pharmacy was terminated.

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