Health Commissioner: Poor recordkeeping, lack of operating procedure “root cause” for vaccine mismanagement

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Major relief in Shelby County as the state confirms no one in the community received an expired vaccine.

Monday, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey announced these findings after a month-long investigation into the Shelby County Health Department’s mishandling of thousands of vaccines.

Piercey said they had two major objectives for this investigation - one, reassuring people that their vaccine shot was safe and two, making sure there are processes in place to prevent this from happening again.

During a briefing, Piercey said there are still major issues plaguing the Shelby County Health Department.

“The bottom line is there was poor record-keeping and lack of standard operating procedure or at least one that could be followed consistently, and that’s what was the root cause of the mismanagement,” said Piercey.

She said those same recordkeeping issues led to teams from the state health department and CDC clocking in more than 1000 hours, checking vaccine integrity over the last 25 days.

Piercey said another misstep was a lack of standard procedure for vaccine distribution.

“For whatever reason, the typical vaccine management or handers in the Shelby County Health Department were not assigned to the COVID vaccine effort,” said Piercey. “I’m unsure of the reasoning there. I think that may have made a difference.”

RELATED STORIES:

VACCINES STOLEN: Volunteer accused of stealing COVID-19 vaccines from Memphis site, state health department says

Health department investigation discovers more than 2,400 wasted vaccine doses in Shelby County

More COVID-19 vaccine distribution violations possibly exposed by Mayor Harris

Piercey said the Shelby County Health Department has been cooperating throughout the investigation.

But what will it take to get them back on track?

“Make sure the system and the procedures are in place and very solidly, so it can carry them into the future. If they want to get back into the COVID vaccine business, we can certainly help facilitate that,” said Piercey.

There are still some lingering questions about the county’s mismanagement of vaccines.

Dr. Piercey said the two children who received vaccines haven’t been identified at this time.

Additionally, the FBI continues investigating allegations of a volunteer stealing COVID vaccine shots. Commissioner Piercey said Mayor Lee Harris gave them additional documentation from the incident. She said it shows health department staff met with local law enforcement about the concern.

Some Shelby County commissioners say the news of all questionable vaccines being safe is welcome news and the best possible outcome from this investigation.

“That was great news that we wanted to hear, that we need to hear that, and I know the many people who received the vaccines were thrilled with that news too,” said Commissioner Amber Mills.

But the review isn’t over. The CDC is still reviewing other majors flaws from the health department, including recordkeeping, program oversight, and inventory management.

Shelby County Commissioner Amber Mills said they were kept in the dark about these missteps until it was too late.

“Better communication, more transparency, and putting the commission in the loop, most of the time we heard the information from you all, from the news,” said Mills.

Commissioner Turner believes the findings will help encourage people to continue getting vaccines and to trust the process. He wants to see the Shelby County Health Department resume vaccine distribution eventually.

“This is something that the Shelby County Health Department should be doing. This is something we should return back to doing, and I think once we have the proper procedures and processes in place, we can,” said Turner.

He feels confident they can move forward from this.

“As we see there are issues everywhere, that’s no excuse, but we’re not the only locale which has had issues, so with that being the case, we need to see where the improvement needs to happen, make those adjustments, and move forward and I think everyone is committed in doing so,” said Turner.

FOX13 made several requests to interview Mayor Lee Harris about this investigation.

His staff says he wasn’t available and sent us a statement saying in part, ’'We are pleased that the CDC’s findings validate what we believed all along.”

RELATED: FAQ: Everything you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine in the Mid-South

FOX13 also requested interviews with outgoing Director Alisa Haushalter and health department leadership, but our requests were declined.

An SCHD spokeswoman sent us this statement:

The Shelby County Health Department has worked collaboratively with the Tennessee Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify all factors that may have contributed to the loss or waste of vaccine. We welcome the announcement that vaccine remained stable from the storage in the pharmacy to administration in the community. The Shelby County Health Department remains committed to continuously improving our services to meet the public health needs of Shelby County.

For the latest on coronavirus, stream FOX13 News on FOX13 Memphis Now – it’s free on your Roku, Amazon Fire or Apple TV as well as your FOX13 News App. You can also follow FOX13 on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.