The buzz about the planned resignation of Shelby County’s Health Department director notwithstanding, COVID-19 vaccinations are being administered at dozens of area sites.
State and local officials are emphasizing that fact, not wanting it lost given the acute need to pick up the vaccination pace.
Across the country, health officials have worried aloud that African Americans are lagging behind Whites in getting vaccinations – a reflection, many assert, of an ongoing history of racial disparities in the U.S. And in Shelby County, African Americans accounted for 52.1 percent of the population in the 2010 Census.
News this week of the Tennessee Department of Health asking federal officials to investigate alleged mismanagement of vaccine distribution — including theft — takes on enhanced concern in that context, with many already skeptical about the process.
In the wake of the detailing of alleged mismanagement, Dr. Alisa Haushalter’s decision to resign from the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) effective March 31 was announced by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris on Friday afternoon. Until then, she will play a more diminished role, with an interim director to be named next week.
Harris revealed Haushalter’s planned resignation to members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, who met in a special session on Friday. She was not there to comment.
The Shelby County Health Department issued a statement regarding reports of a potential theft at a vaccination site.
“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 statement read.
“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.”
State health officials also announced that a volunteer in Shelby County improperly vaccinated two children despite the shot not being cleared for young minors.
Earlier, the state announced that roughly 2,400 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been wasted in Shelby County over the past month due to miscommunication and insufficient record-keeping inside the health department.
The Tennessee Department of Health now has passed the responsibility of distributing the vaccine to the City of Memphis.
“I assure you we are up to the task and ready to scale our delivery for more vaccines as they become available,” Mayor Jim Strickland said in his weekly digital update.
The city on Friday delivered 9,600-plus vaccines to 10 sites across Shelby County, including vaccinations for more than 3,000 educators at Shelby County Schools and Municipal School districts, he added.
“This will complete first round vaccinations for SCS, Millington, Lakeland, Bartlett and Arlington districts. Significantly, this will also complete the administration of nearly 1,000 doses of vaccine that were set to expire between Saturday and Monday of next week,” Strickland detailed.
New appointments were opened Friday for about 30,000 vaccinations set to be administered next week.
“This will complete first round vaccinations for the rest of the educators in Shelby County, including the Achievement School district, Germantown and Collierville schools, the Memphis Independent Schools and the Catholic Diocese,” said Strickland, noting that the goal is “700,000 residents vaccinated with at least one dose by August of this year.”
Ahead of Haushalter’s announced resignation, sentiment had been mounting for her removal, with Memphis City Council member Chase Carlisle calling on Thursday for her resignation. He also wanted her senior leadership staff to resign.
At a virtual Town Hall Tuesday evening, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said extensive findings warranted an investigation of vaccine distribution in Shelby County.
The FBI has been made aware of the situation, FBI spokesman Joel Siskovic said Friday. He did not confirm nor deny if an investigation was underway.
As the TDH investigation of COVID-19 vaccine wastage in Shelby County continues, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey reminds residents vaccinations are available from multiple providers. Learn more: https://t.co/o2BwhDNhHu pic.twitter.com/GnW8EYLWNB
— TN Dept. of Health (@TNDeptofHealth) February 26, 2021
Totals reported by the state on February 22 showed that 30,250 or three percent of Shelby County’s population had received both doses of the vaccination, with 105,338 residents having received the first dose.
Tennessee as a whole wasn’t faring much better. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11.2 percent of Tennessee’s overall population had received a single dose of the vaccine and only 5.4 percent received a second dose.
Piercey attributed Tennessee’s low number to vaccination equity, citing the state’s prioritizing of vulnerable populations based on race and age.
“Equity is one of the reasons we’re going slower because we want to make sure we’re getting it to people who need it the most,” Piercey said.
Speaking with reporters Friday at a vaccination site in Memphis, Gov. Bill Lee said he was disappointed with the developments in Shelby County. Lee said the state is working with City of Memphis government, which has taken over vaccine storage and distribution from the county health department.
“That speaks to the great deal of concern that we have,” Lee said about Memphis replacing the county health department with vaccine management.
COVID-19 Vaccination Sites in Shelby County
Individuals seeking COVID-19 vaccination in Shelby County can visit https://bit.ly/3bHWtBf to find information on providers and how to schedule an appointment.
Shelby County is currently vaccinating people age 65 and older and those in Phases 1a and 1b of Tennessee’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.
The following sites are now offering COVID-19 vaccinations in Shelby County:
|Cordova/Appling||2355 Appling Cove||Make an appointment|
|First Pharmacy Services||1087 Alice Ave.||901-946-1375 or book online|
|Germantown Baptist||9450 Poplar Ave.||Make an appointment|
|Midtown/Pipkin Building||940 Early Maxwell Blvd.||Make an appointment|
|Raleigh/Greater Imani||3824 Austin Peay Highway||Make an appointment|
|Sam’s Club #6256||7475 Winchester Road||Make an appointment|
|Sam’s Club #6260||8480 Highway 64||Make an appointment|
|Sam’s Club #8292||2150 Covington Pike||Make an appointment|
|Walmart||3950 Austin Peay Highway||Make an appointment|
|Walmart||6990 East Shelby Drive||Make an appointment|
|Walmart||5255 Elvis Presley Blvd.||Make an appointment|
|Walmart||2856 Hickory Hill Road||Make an appointment|
|Walmart||6520 Memphis Arlington Road||Make an appointment|
|Walmart||577 North Germantown Parkway||Make an appointment|
|Walmart||6727 Raleigh Lagrange Road||Make an appointment|
|Walmart||560 West Poplar Ave.||Make an appointment|
|Walmart||7525 Winchester Road||Make an appointment|
|Whitehaven/Southwest||1234 Finley||Make an appointment|
The city of Memphis is also holding a pop-up vaccination on Saturday (Feb. 27) at Cane Creek Missionary Baptist Church,
1785 Elvis Presley Blvd. Make an appointment
Additional information on COVID-19 vaccination sites operated by the City of Memphis, including hours of operation and how to book appointments for future dates, is available online at https://covid19.memphistn.gov/vaccine/.
(This story includes reports from Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell and The Associated Press.)