State: FBI alerted after potential vaccine theft by volunteer in Memphis; health department director resigns

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Health said Friday they have contacted the FBI over the potential theft of COVID-19 vaccines by a volunteer from the Pipkin site in Memphis.

Dr. Lisa Piercey with TDH said the incident may have occurred Feb. 3. The FBI was contacted Thursday night.

“Yesterday was February 25th and that was the first time we were made aware of this potential theft on February 3,” Piercey said.

She said the volunteer is no longer working. 

Later in the call, Piercey said the doses had already been drawn into syringes. The volunteer allegedly left with them. The Shelby County Health Department did not disclose the possible theft until Piercey mentioned the possibility of a federal investigation.

Shelby County Health Director Alisa Haushalter, who resigned Friday, has a different version.

She didn’t agree to an interview, but told WREG in part, “there were no witnesses to a theft, other staff were suspicious of the volunteer, who is a medical professional.”

The Shelby County Health Department responded in a statement, saying law enforcement had been notified after staff became suspicious of a volunteer, but there was not enough evidence to file a report.

“Our understanding is that in the beginning of February, a site supervisor received information that a volunteer might have engaged in suspicious behavior. Although there were no witnesses to a theft, other staff were suspicious of the volunteer, who is a medical professional. The Shelby County Health Department removed the volunteer from the premises and the site supervisor contacted law enforcement regarding the incident. Law enforcement concluded that there was insufficient information to file a report of any theft or unlawful conduct.”

MPD said they didn’t have a report from that location on that day, and dispatch has no record of a call.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office alerted us that a deputy was at the Pipkin Building about a possible theft of vaccines. There were no eyewitnesses and insufficient information. Because of that, the health department representative did not request a report.

As a standard rule, the FBI wouldn’t comment on whether it’s investigating.

We spoke to a former Pipkin Building volunteer who asked to remain anonymous. She the vaccines sat on a table in the middle of the injection stations. At that table sat a pharmacist and two medical professions who filled up the syringes.

“We would get 10 injections at a time. Once our table ran out we would go and pick them back up,” the volunteer said. “There’s enough disorganization that I could see on a busy day perhaps how they could lose track of some injections.”

The WREG investigators have requested the email information Mayor Harris sent to the state, as well as a list of volunteers from that day.

Piercey also noted a separate event in which she said two children were vaccinated at the city-run Appling site.

A spokesman with the city said a University Clinical Health volunteer vaccinated the two children at the Appling site. They immediately self-reported it to the Shelby County Health Department, spokesman Dan Springer said.

While the Shelby County Health Department has blamed a snow and ice storm for 2,400 doses of expired vaccine being wasted, Piercey said that timeline did not match facts outlined by the state. TDH said there were several expiration events before the snow event, including the expiration of more than 1,000 doses reported Feb. 3.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris told county commissioners that Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, has tendered her resignation Friday.

As of Friday, Harris said, Haushalter is still an employee of the health department. There will be a “wind-down period,” after which an interim director will be named next week, he said.

Commissioner Mick Wright called the situation a “miscarriage of justice” and said Haushalter should be terminated immediately.

More on this development here.

Also Friday, Rutherford County’s health department in Middle Tennessee said it had thrown out 1,000 expired doses that had been set aside for teacher vaccinations. Knox County has also previously acknowledged throwing out vaccines.

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