MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There’s a war of words between the state and Shelby County’s mayor over thousands of expired and unused COVID-19 vaccinations.
As Mayor Lee Harris tries to defend what happened, the state says he could have exposed another county violation.
Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey basically said Harris put his foot in his mouth Wednesday when he admitted to keeping 51,000 doses in inventory for teachers and missed appointments.
Piercey said stockpiling isn’t allowed and called the violation “significant.”
“Some of what they said is true,” Harris said. “Not all of what was said is true, but we are navigating those curveballs.”
Harris defended himself when asked about the state’s investigation into thousands of expired doses and unused vaccines.
Tuesday, FOX13 reported the state discovered some 2,400 expired doses and 51,000 doses sitting on the shelf unused.
Wednesday afternoon, Harris offered an explanation for the vaccine doses in inventory — doses meant to be used within seven to 10 days, according to the state.
“A lot of those doses were for teacher vaccinations and for missed appointments,” Harris said. “A lot of this story has not been told. We are going to tell the story.”
In the Tennessee Department of Health’s eyes, this comment added more fuel to the fire.
Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey released a statement saying those comments confirm another violation: stockpiling.
“With today’s confirmation of stockpiling the vaccine, the mayor’s statements have alerted us to yet another significant violation with the Shelby County Health Department’s vaccine management,” Piercey said. “These statements reflect that vaccines were inappropriately withheld from an in-phase population over the course of several weeks. Stockpiling for a later phase is not authorized, and this action unnecessarily prohibited high-risk elderly individuals from receiving their fair share of this limited and life-saving resource.”
Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state are now managing the vaccination process for the next 30 days, Harris said he still has confidence in Director Alisa Haushalter.
Harris admitted the county health department made a mistake but said he would like even more help from Gov. Bill Lee.
“I think he’s not doing an active job of managing this pandemic,” Harris said. “I think he’s focused on issues that are beside the point.”
“Obviously, the wasted doses are a huge issue, but a lot of what they said felt like maybe not distortions but theater,” Harris went on to say.
Lee said the COVID-19 response has been a top priority, and now he’s taking action to make sure Shelby County residents get their shots.
“We are disappointed in what happened in Shelby County, but we swiftly took action as soon as we knew there was an issue,” Lee said.
FOX13 reached out to the mayor’s office for a comment about this possible new violation. Frankie Dakin, Press Secretary for Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris sent the following statement:
“First, Governor Lee’s administration feigns shock and say they knew nothing about inventory even though Shelby County’s inventory was part of the state’s very own presentation on February 8th. Now they say maybe the inventory was actually for teachers, but they don’t approve of that use. On February 8th, we met with the state and directly asked whether Shelby County could vaccinate teachers and they didn’t say no or even express reservations. We moved accordingly. We need to prioritize education and get our teachers back in the classroom safely. Teacher vaccination can’t just be a priority for the Lee administration in the rural areas.”
FOX13 asked a Shelby County schools spokesperson if the district was aware of Mayor Lee Harris’s comments about the health department holding 51,000 doses for teachers and missed appointments.
The spokesperson said SCS had no idea and never requested for this to happen.
“Over the last several weeks, SCS has made a number of public pleas for teachers and employees to be prioritized for vaccinations. The District was unaware of any stockpile doses,” said SCS spokesperson Jerica Phillips.
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