Investigators: State says expired vaccines not dangerous but still investigating whether any were given

Investigators: Growing concerns surrounding expired vaccines

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Since news broke that the state is investigating whether expired doses were administered, calls and emails have flooded into WMC Action News 5.

One of those concerned Memphis residents is Bernard Williams. He received his first COVID-19 vaccine dose at the Pipkin building in January.

“I’m very concerned. I’m 82 years old and I want to be here a little longer,” he said.

Williams became concerned after seeing the lot number from his vaccination card on the news.

A document showing what doses expired in the Shelby County Health Department pharmacy included Williams’ same lot number.

A handwritten note documents Shelby County's COVID-19 vaccine waste. The Tennessee Department of Health found poor record keeping among other issues in a state investigation into the waste.
A handwritten note documents Shelby County's COVID-19 vaccine waste. The Tennessee Department of Health found poor record keeping among other issues in a state investigation into the waste. (Source: TDH)

However, Shelby County’s deputy health director said Tuesday that none of the doses on the document were sent to vaccination sites.

“They were thawed out in the pharmacy but they never left the pharmacy to be used,” said David Sweat. “So, no one was put in jeopardy of receiving doses that had been thawed out for more than five days.”

Tennessee’s health commissioner agreed with Sweat’s statement.

She also added that lot numbers include hundreds if not thousands of doses, not just the doses on the document.

“There could’ve been several hundred that went out into the field that were perfectly fine,” said Dr. Lisa Piercey. “To answer your question: Those expired in the pharmacy and were not out.”

Shelby County health officials maintain that no one received an expired dose.

However, Piercey said the state is still investigating to make sure each of the thousands of doses administered were kept at the right temperature from storage to shot.

“We have incorporated the Pfizer science team because they have a lot of data based on the stability of their product at different temperatures,” she said.

Piercey said the process will be long and detailed. If they discover expired vaccine was given, she was clear: Expired vaccine is not dangerous.

“This is really important. Nothing bad is going to happen if you get an expired vaccine,” said Piercey.

According to the health commissioner, the worst thing that can happen is the vaccine isn’t as effective.

The City of Memphis said if people do need to be re-vaccinated, they will develop a process and plan to do so.

“We will let everybody know and we’ll make sure if that becomes something that we’ll schedule it and give people a heads up about who needs it and where it can be done,” said Doug McGowen, City of Memphis chief operating officer.

Bernard Williams hopes that won’t have to happen. He waited for hours for his vaccine and doesn’t want to do it again.

“I don’t think Shelby County has handled it well at all,” he said.

The state is also looking into cases where someone received a vaccine and their card says the vaccine expired days before.

Piercey said it seems to be due to a clerical error.

“Essentially, a lot of the sheets were printed up and the newer ones weren’t taken to the site. That’s an overgeneralization but that’s the type of clerical error I’m referencing,” said Piercey.

She also said that the state will continue to investigate that it is correct in all cases.

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