Shelby County health officer: State investigation ‘exonerates us’ after concerns about expired vaccine doses

Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 task force gives update 3/18/2021

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph went on the offensive during Thursday’s joint COVID-19 task force briefing, saying the health department has received “uncalled for, unjustified criticism in the media” since the start of a state investigation into vaccine mismanagement.

Randolph reiterated some of the findings from the Tennessee Department of Health’s investigation, which determined no expired, unstable COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in Shelby County. Questions about potential expired doses arose after state investigators discovered a number of issues, including poor record-keeping with expired lot numbers on hand-written notes and questionable vaccine storage practices. Thousands of doses were also lost to expiration.

The City of Memphis took over vaccination efforts as the state investigated.

Earlier this week, Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey announced the results of a month-long, multi-agency investigation involving TDH, CDC, FDA and vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna. She estimated more than 1,000 hours of manpower went into investigating whether 55,000 doses were stable and effective before being administered -- a process made longer by inefficient record-keeping at the Shelby County Health Department, Piercey said.

“Because of the exhaustive assessment by local, state, federal and industry partners, we can confidently reassure all recipients of vaccine at Shelby County sites that the doses received were stable and effective,” said Piercey.

Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force 3/18/2021

The Memphis-Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force is giving its Thursday update. https://bit.ly/2NtYx7U

Posted by WMC Action News 5 on Thursday, March 18, 2021

Speaking Thursday, Randolph thanked the now-former director of the Shelby County Health Department, Dr. Alisa Haushalter, as well as former nursing director Dr. Judy Martin and former contract pharmacist Dr. Marilyn Bruce for their sacrifices.

Randolph said the state’s findings “exonerates us” and said “you can hold your head up and not be ashamed.”

Haushalter resigned last month and the other two left the department at the beginning of the state investigation.

TDH did not reach a conclusion on allegations of stolen vaccines or the improper vaccinations of children. Rather, the state reported the incidents to federal authorities.

When asked about those issues, Randolph said the state’s findings show “that we maintained the proper temperature in handling and storage of the vaccine, therefore there’s not a need to vaccinate 47,000 people again.”

He continued: “And also as it relates to these so-called stolen vaccines that have not been completely proven. Matter of fact, there’s still some investigation there. And the vaccination of children did not occur as a result of a Shelby County nurse or staff person rendering that vaccine. And that is something that needs to be brought out and clarified. Those incidents occurred at sites that was not controlled and manned by the health department.”

Piercey released a statement Friday after learning of Randolph’s comments, reiterating the seriousness of the investigation.

“Involvement of multiple federal agencies, including the CDC and FDA, speaks to the seriousness of the situation - from inventory mismanagement and wasted doses to disorganized and insufficient record-keeping. No other county in the state has warranted CDC intervention to analyze whether over 50,000 doses were handled properly. Shelby County residents deserve the benefit of a solid improvement plan for vaccine services moving forward, not a defense of the status quo.”
Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee Health Commissioner

Gina Sweat, director of the Memphis Fire Department, also spoke at Thursday’s briefing and encouraged anyone whose vaccine appointment was canceled Wednesday for weather to reschedule. She said do not show up without an appointment.

To make a vaccine appointment, visit covid19.memphistn.gov. You’ll also find a map where you can search for a vaccine provider closest to you.

Sweat also said anyone who has had trouble scheduling a second dose appointment for the Moderna vaccine can email covid19help@memphistn.gov. Include the date of your first vaccination and the City will help locate an appointment.

More than 230,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Shelby County with 162,017 people receiving at least one dose.

Shelby County and Tennessee are in phase 1C of vaccinations. This includes people 16 and older with comorbidities and citizens 65 years and older.

Shelby County reported 141 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, but no more deaths since Sunday. The number of new cases is higher than recent days -- Wednesday had less than 100 -- and Randolph said county health officials are monitoring seven- and 14-day case averages to make sure there isn’t a new upward trend as they loosen restrictions. A new health directive and mask order were announced this week.

The county is nearing 90,000 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. As of Thursday, there have been 89,919, and 1,539 people have died.

The Shelby County Health Department is monitoring ongoing clusters at 17 long-term care facilities. Click here for a list.

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