NASHVILLE, Tenn.: Tennessee’s top health officials revealed Friday the state has requested federal law enforcement to investigate alleged theft of coronavirus vaccine doses in the state’s most populous county, and also announced that a volunteer improperly vaccinated two children despite the shot not being cleared for young minors.
The details come after the state previously 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 local health department. The county had also built up nearly 30,000 excessive vaccine doses in its inventory.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey declined to give details on the extent of the theft allegations, but said the Shelby County Health Department only alerted the state about the stolen doses after the state had asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch their own investigation.
Piercey did say, however, that the stolen shots are believed to have been taken by a volunteer who ran off with the vaccine in syringes not the actual vials the shots are kept in.
The FBI has been made aware of the situation, FBI spokesman Joel Siscovic said Friday, but he did not confirm or deny if an investigation was underway.
Meanwhile, Piercey said the state is still scrambling to learn more about how a volunteer immunized two children Feb. 3. Piercey said a mother with two children arrived at a vaccination site and all three had appointments. It’s unclear if the children will receive a second dose.
On top of the nearly 2,400 shots reported wasted, the health department says more vaccines were wasted this week in Shelby County. Sixty four unused doses went to waste while 12 more were unaccounted for after a Tuesday vaccination event.
At the end of the day there does seem to be a lack of accountability and in some sense, leadership. That has led to undoubtedly potential harm to some folks,” Piercey told reporters.
Piercey stressed that despite the past week’s revelations, her focus remained on getting as many shots into arms as possible.
Along with news of the alleged theft and vaccines given to children, the state’s health department also provided email correspondences with Dr. Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department in Memphis.
Earlier this week, Haushalter said she called and left a message for Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the state health departments immunization program director, to discuss the wasted vaccines on Feb. 13. Haushalter said she did not talk to the state until Feb. 19, when the investigation launched after her first public statements about the wasted vaccines.
According to emails released by the state, Haushalter emailed Fiscus on Feb. 17 but made no mention of wasted doses. Instead, she asked Fiscus to contact her when your time permits. Fiscus said there was no sense of urgency in Haushalters attempt to contact her.
Piercey said in an email to Fiscus that she also spoke with Haushalter for 15 minutes on Feb. 16 again, there was no mention was made of any expired product.
Haushalter also said Wednesday that she found out about additional wasted vaccines Feb. 13, but did not publicly disclose that information until six days later, on Feb. 19, when she said about 1,315 vaccine doses that had expired and were thrown out amid a series of winter storms that shut down vaccination sites.
Haushalter says she has not ruled out resigning.
The local health department did not immediately respond to emailed questions regarding the alleged theft and vaccines provided to children.
Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee.
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