The Investigators: State investigating if Shelby County residents received expired COVID-19 vaccine doses

Updated: Feb. 26, 2021 at 6:10 PM CST
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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - Mismanagement at the Shelby County Health Department led to thousands of wasted and expired COVID-19 vaccine doses and the resignation of the health department’s director.

While Shelby County Health Department Director Alisia Haushalter said Thursday that no one received expired doses in Shelby County, the Tennessee Department of Health said it is investigating.

On Friday, we learned why.

Related | State says Shelby County’s stockpiling of vaccines “another significant violation” of vaccine management

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines must be stored in very cold temperatures.

Tennessee’s health commissioner said Shelby County cannot prove it maintained that cold storage before doses were put into syringes and then into arms.

“Right now, our team is working feverishly to try to mine the data that we do have available to us and put all the pieces of this puzzle together so that we can ensure the integrity of that cold chain temperature all throughout the process,” said Dr. Lisa Piercey.

After the vaccine is removed from cold storage, it must be used within days.

After a vaccination event Thursday, eighteen doses were found and it’s unclear when they were removed from the freezer and thawed.

“While that might not be so startling on the surface, the thing that was concerning to us is that these three vials, or 18 doses, were mixed in with some other vials and did not match up with the site where they went,” she said. “We don’t exactly know the date of those.”

Piercey said while the Shelby County Health Department couldn’t provide certain information, it purposefully withheld other information including nearly 1,000 wasted doses.

Related | The Investigators: School systems ‘unaware’ of Health Director’s teacher vaccination date

“We weren’t disclosed anything until finally we reminded them that there was likely going to be a federal investigation,” said Piercey. “That is when the additional 840 doses were disclosed on February 22 and they were wasted or expired on February 15.”

The state also revealed Friday that Shelby County vaccinated two children and a health department volunteer is suspected of stealing vaccine from a site.

The CDC, FBI and federal Department of Health and Human Services are now investigating.

When asked who is responsible for the lack of accountability in the Shelby County Health Department, Piercey did not mince words.

Related | Tennessee U.S. lawmakers respond to SCHD vaccine waste investigation

She pointed to now-former director, Haushalter.

“At the end of the day, the leader is accountable for making sure what he or she is hearing being told is accurate and complete,” said Piercey. “That appears to be the main issue at hand here.”

The Investigators reached out to the Shelby County Health Department for comment but didn’t hear back.

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