MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As the Tennessee Department of Health looks into the mismanagement of vaccine distribution by the Shelby County Health Department there are talks of a possible federal investigation.
Thursday morning, Tennessee U.S. Representative David Kustoff tweeted about the Shelby County vaccine waste investigation:
“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. 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 further investigation by state authorities and possibly federal authorities into this fiasco.”
Steve Mulroy, Law Professor at the University of Memphis said he thinks a federal investigation is unlikely.
“This doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would be really appropriate for something as serious as a federal investigation,” Mulroy said.
Instead, he believes the investigation would be administrative and bureaucratic in nature to determine what went wrong and how things could be remedied going forward.
“I don’t really think there would be much in terms of actual legal penalties civil or criminal that would result from this unless we were shown that somebody acted intentionally or lied to investigators.” However, Mulroy said we should not take lightly the political dynamic in this situation.
“You’ve got a conservative Republican governor and a conservative republican state government that itself has been under fire for some problematic COVID responses on the part of the state government, and they are coming down really hard on the most democratic African American County in the state,” Mulroy said.
WMC Action News 5 reached out to Tennessee’s U.S. lawmakers about the possibility of a federal investigation.
A spokesperson for Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) responded, “We’re looking into it.”
Congressman Steve Cohen (D- Tennessee) sent the following statement:
“It is disappointing that so many vaccines went to waste in Shelby County, especially when so many people are struggling to secure vaccination appointments, but this isn’t the moment to be pointing fingers. There are lessons to be learned in understanding what went wrong here, and the most important thing is that we focus on putting resources and expertise into ensuring Shelby County residents can access vaccines as quickly and safely as possible. It was always the plan for the City of Memphis, hospitals, and pharmacies to take on a larger role in distributing vaccines, and I’m pleased to see they are stepping up. I am monitoring this situation closely and working with my House colleagues to quickly pass the American Rescue Plan that will help boost vaccine roll-outs both in Memphis and nationwide.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee) said:
“Senator Hagerty has repeatedly praised the work of Operation Warp Speed, believing that the best stimulus for Tennesseans is getting vaccine doses into arms, which is why he was disappointed and concerned by the wasted vaccine doses that did not go to the people of Shelby County. Given the unprecedented challenges facing the county in recent days, including weather and serious infrastructure problems, he is grateful that the Tennessee Department of Health is working to quickly correct this issue and ensure it never happens again. Our office is in close communication with Governor Lee and his team to ensure that they receive any federal assistance that is needed. Senator Hagerty continues to closely monitor the situation.”
WMC Action News 5 reached out to Operation Warp Speed officials for a comment about the Shelby County Health Department investigation, we have not heard back.