MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After 2,400 vaccines were thrown away in Shelby County, leading the state to ban the health department from distributing the vaccine, a WREG investigation reveals the rationale provided by county leaders is not adding up.
The city, which took over vaccinations, says it’s trying to correct a lot of inefficiencies from before.
On Jan. 26, the Shelby County Health Department’s Dr. Judy Martin talked about increased vaccination efforts. But we now know, behind the scenes, they were starting to save vaccines for teachers.
Martin spoke again on Feb. 2, saying, “At this time it looks like it will be later in this month, possibly the first of March. That’s our hope, it will occur sooner rather than later.”
Now, the Tennessee Department of Health says the county saved a little too much, and had to throw away multiple batches of expired doses starting on Feb. 3 — just one day after Martin talked about the teachers’ timeline. She has since retired amid this controversy.
“We found no formal process for management of soon-to-expire product,” said Dr. Lisa Piercey with the TDH.
What’s more, state staff say they found tens of thousands of extra doses in storage when they got to Shelby County to investigate.
Mayor Lee Harris said those were part of the stockpile.
“Obviously there was 50,000 doses on the shelf, but a lot of those doses were for teacher vaccinations,” Harris said.
We wanted to know why the county started saving so early.
We tried to ask about this timeline at the COVID-19 task force briefing Thursday, but Shelby County Health Department epidemiologist David Sweat did not answer our question.
“I have no information to add to the stockpile question to add to anything that’s been said previously,” Sweat said.
Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter was not at the briefing.
This has turned into a back and forth between the state and Shelby County. The state says stockpiling vaccines for any priority group is not allowed.
Both Sweat and city leaders were asked about this multiple times Thursday. They say they want to look forward, and they plan to distribute the excess vaccines this week.