State blasts Shelby Co. over vaccine mishandling

State blasts Shelby Co. over vaccine handling

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Scathing criticism from Tennessee’s top health official over the way Shelby County stockpiled thousands of Covid-19 vaccine doses

“We are disappointed in what happened in Shelby County, but we swiftly took action as soon as we knew there was an issue,” said Governor Bill Lee during a media availability Tuesday.

Monday State health officials announced they discovered a stockpile of 52,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine which was about 30,000 too many.

Tuesday Mayor Lee Harris offered an explanation during a press conference.

“So obviously there were 50,000 doses on the shelf, but a lot of those doses were for teacher vaccinations and missed appointments. So a lot of this story hasn’t been told and so we’re going to tell the story and make sure we put out the right information,” said Harris.

Frankie Dakin, Press Secretary for Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris stated:

“First, Governor Lee’s administration feigns shock and say they knew nothing about inventory even though Shelby County’s inventory was part of the state’s very own presentation on February 8th. Now they say maybe the inventory was actually for teachers, but they don’t approve of that use. On February 8th, we met with the state and directly asked whether Shelby County could vaccinate teachers and they didn’t say no or even express reservations. We moved accordingly. We need to prioritize education and get our teachers back in the classroom safely. Teacher vaccination can’t just be a priority for the Lee administration in the rural areas.”

Tuesday about 2,000 shots were administered to teachers.

The first day of vaccination for teachers in Shelby county coming just days before students return to the classroom and based on the Mayor’s statement we now know where those doses possibly came from.

Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercy put out a statement within hours of the Mayor’s press conference saying:

“With today’s confirmation of stockpiling the vaccine, the mayor’s statements have alerted us to yet another significant violation with the Shelby County Health Department’s vaccine management. These statements reflect that vaccines were inappropriately withheld from an in-phase population over the course of several weeks. Stockpiling for a later phase is not authorized, This action unnecessarily prohibited high-risk elderly individuals from receiving their fair share of this limited and life-saving vaccine.”

Healthcare workers, first responders, long-term care residents and people over the age of 75 were just some of the people in phases ahead of teachers.

More: Mass vaccinations begin for teachers at Shelby County Schools

SCS Spokesperson Jerica Phillips said in a statement:

Over the last several weeks, SCS has made a number of public pleas for teachers and employees to be prioritized for vaccinations. The District was unaware of any stockpile doses.”

Shelby County commissioner Mark Billingsley said his confidence in the health department leadership is dwindling and says others need to step up-- specifically Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.

“If you want to be the Mayor, you have to have the responsibility. The buck stops with you. If Mayor Harris isn’t up to that challenge then he needs to step aside,” said Billingsley.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Mayor Harris did question the number of vaccine doses allegedly found on the shelves by state health officials.

As far as teacher vaccinations are concerned, city officials said Monday 10,000 doses were set aside for teachers this week.

It is expected the city will honor those doses for teachers.

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