State investigation uncovers 2,400 vaccine doses expired in Shelby County, other issues with vaccine management

Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 2:30 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said Tuesday Shelby County lost more COVID-19 vaccines recently than previously reported.

The Tennessee Department of Health launched an investigation last week after the Shelby County Health Department reported more than 1,000 doses were discarded due to expiration.

TDH health personnel deployed to Shelby County to review the health department’s procedures and assess inventory. The investigation uncovered seven instances of vaccine waste amounting to the loss of more than 2,400 doses. Previously, the health department reported the loss of about 1,300 vaccine doses.

TDH personnel found six different expiration events between Feb. 3 and Feb. 12 and a seventh Feb. 15. Piercey said only the last incident was weather-related.

Piercey said the waste incidents occurred when an entire tray of vaccine was defrosted but was more than needed. Instead of deploying the doses for distribution, they were allowed to expire.

TDH personnel found a lack of standard operating procedures for storage and handling of the vaccine, insufficient record keeping and no formal process for management of soon-to-expire vaccine doses.

Piercey also said the investigation found 51,000 doses in inventory -- an excess of about 30,000 doses -- set to expire March 6.

She said the excess was on their radar for some time but the health department initially blamed it on a data backlog until TDH reviewed the inventory.

According to TDH, the current inventory of COVID-19 vaccine was distributed to proven community partners for immediate administration.

As a result of the investigation’s findings, TDH embedded personnel in Shelby County to assist and monitor their pharmacy operation and formally requested additional on-site assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

TDH will direct new allocations to the City of Memphis as well as hospitals, pharmacies and clinics in Memphis and Shelby County. TDH says physical management of the vaccine itself will be transferred from SCHD to hospital partners.

TDH is also holding daily calls with SCHD leadership to supplement the work of the on-site team.

The City of Memphis previously took over management of the Pipkin Building vaccination site. It also manages the Appling Emissions Center site.

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