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COVID-19 UPDATE: Discarded COVID-19 vaccines prompt local move to clarify

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter, during a news conference Wednesday (Feb. 24) afternoon, gave an explanation to why 2,400 COVID vaccine doses were allowed to expire

Haushalter also pushed back on reports about how and why 51,000 doses have gone unused.

The situation resulted in the Tennessee State Health Department criticizing the county for the high number of wasted doses and general mismanagement that led to a reported 51,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines sitting in cold stores.

Some 30,000 of those doses are set to expire March 6.

Dr. Alisa Haushalter

Haushalter said a number of circumstances can lead to doses being lost, including that they were thawed and expired before they were used, that they were left over after clinic sessions, or they were returned after a clinic but had to be destroyed due to changes in temperature.

She added the closing of vaccination sites, resulting from the snow storm, did not help the situation.

The county Health Department has yielded administration of the vaccine to the City of Memphis, hospitals and pharmacies.

Haushalter disputed the numbers the Tennessee Department of Health provided, explaining that the county counts five doses per vial, while the state counts six.

Haushalter also said the county inventoried 10,000 to14,000 doses to vaccinate teachers. That, along with the inclement weather and the arrival of more vaccine, led to a surplus, she said.

She said Marilyn Bruce, director of pharmacy for the Health Department, a contract employee to the Health Department from Regional One Health, was let go.

Also, Dr. Judy Martin, head of immunization at the Health Department, retired as a result of situation.

“As we get toward the end of the week,” Haushalter said, “what we’ll have in place is an agreed upon plan that allows us to work together to address any deficiencies we have in processes internally so we can receive vaccine in the future and distribute that in an effective manner to this community.”

She said the department’s goal is to again receive and distribute vaccine. 

Meanwhile, the Health Department confirmed that vaccinations would begin for individuals in the “1.b” category on Wednesday (Feb. 24). Phase “1.b” of the state’s vaccination plan includes county residents 65 years and older, as well as teachers and childcare staff.

Nationally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Wednesday that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine meets requirements for emergency use authorization. A committee will meet Friday (Feb. 26) on the next steps in the final approval process.

The J&J vaccine only requires one dose to be effective. The Moderna and Pfizer require two vaccinations.

Locally, the reproductive rate of the virus is well below one percent.

On Thursday morning (Feb. 25), the Health Department, reported 114,475 doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Shelby County – 79,423 were first doses and 35,052 were second doses.

Still, health officials are concerned about the infection rate after COVID-19 variants – South African and Brazilian – were detected in Shelby County.

Health officials worry that the variants, while not necessarily more deadly, may be more transmissible and that the approved vaccines could be less effective again them.

Regarding new virus cases, the county reported 220 new cases Thursday and 19 deaths (investigation death date ranging from 12/17/2020 to 02/19/2021). There have been 1,479 virus-related deaths in the county.

Officials cautioned that the new case count could have been impacted by the lack of testing because of the inclement weather. 

Phase “1.b” in Shelby County will mean that 6,000 teachers in Shelby County Schools will be vaccinated at two sites over a three-day period, Wednesday (Feb. 24) through Friday (Feb 26). 

SCS district leaders and employees lined up Wednesday morning to receive vaccinations against COVID-19. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

Teachers in Lakeland, Arlington, and Millington will receive the vaccine on Friday Feb. 26. Germantown teachers will receive the vaccine on March. 5.

Health partners also providing vaccines are:

  • Veteran’s Administration, 1030 Jefferson Ave.; now vaccinating all veterans 65 and older at the city’s VA Medical Center. Veterans must be enrolled at the VA at: www.va.gov., to receive the vaccination.
  • Walmart Pharmacies at eleven locations across the county are providing vaccine. To schedule an appointment at the closest store, go to: https://www.walmart.com/cp/1228302.

Shelby County residents may still register on VaxQueue, a standby list for those who would like to be notified when the COVID-19 vaccine may become available. Visit: Shelby.community/covid-19-vaccine/.

(Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell contributed to this story.)


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