Tennessee governor ‘disappointed’ in Shelby County vaccine waste

Visitor restrictions for Tennessee’s long-term care facilities set to end Feb. 28

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee weighed in on the state’s investigation into vaccine waste in Shelby County Wednesday.

The governor said the Tennessee Department of Health is engaging with health departments across the state and they believe the vaccine distribution process is going well is the other 94 counties.

“We are disappointed in what’s happened in Shelby County, but we swiftly took action as soon as we knew there was an issue,” said Lee.

On Tuesday, Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey reported a state investigation discovered more than 2,400 doses were lost due to expiration and an excess of 30,000 doses were nearing expiration. Investigators also identified a list of other inadequacies in vaccine management.

The governor’s spokesperson, Casey Black, released a statement ahead of the news conference, referencing significant issues with the Shelby County Health Department’s vaccine management.

“Gov. Lee immediately deployed state health officials to the Shelby County Health Department who worked through the weekend to provide support and fully review the situation,” said Black. “The Governor’s Unified-Command Group identified significant issues and is working to ensure Shelby County residents can continue to receive vaccinations while this situation is rectified. States officials will continue a thorough investigation and provide updates as they become available.”

Tennessee governor discusses vaccines and COVID-19 (Feb. 24, 2021)

Gov. Bill Lee is expected to address Shelby County's vaccine waste at a news conference this afternoon in Nashville.

Posted by WMC Action News 5 on Wednesday, February 24, 2021

SCHD’s vaccine inventory has since been distributed to community partners for immediate distribution. The health department will not receive any additional vaccine shipments. Instead, the City of Memphis and hospital and other health care partners will handle distribution.

“We want to make sure that Memphians and those who live in Shelby County continue on with the vaccination process,” said Lee. “We want to speed it up actually.”

The governor said it’s not clear if the SCHD will resume vaccination efforts in the future.

“I think right now what we’re focused on is solving the problem at hand,” said Lee. “What happens in the future will change with regard to the amount of vaccines we have and what the distribution process looks like going forward. Our job right now is to get the vaccine into the arms of Shelby Countians and do it effectively and efficiently, and so that’s what we’re focused on.”

SCHD Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter and Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph apologized for the vaccine loss Wednesday.

The governor also discussed lifting the remaining visitor restrictions at Tennessee’s long-term care facilities as of Feb. 28. Facilities will no longer be required to obey state-specific restrictions and instead will use federal guidance from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Lee said 100 percent of Tennessee’s nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities have completed both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and the state’s assisted care facilities and residential homes are projected to finish this week.Copyright 2021 WMC. All rights reserved.