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Over 2,400 COVID-19 vaccine doses wasted in Tennessee county: health officials

Over 2,400 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were wasted in Tennessee’s most populous county since the beginning of this month, state health officials confirmed this week.

The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed the thousands of wasted doses as part of an investigation launched last week. The investigation followed reports that over 1,000 vaccine doses were allowed to expire before they could be administered in Shelby County, which includes Memphis.

The state’s health department found that the Shelby County Health Department wasted over 2,400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine over seven separate “incidents" dating back to Feb. 3, the department confirmed in a Tuesday statement.

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One of the incidents, which resulted in hundreds of vaccines expiring, was due to winter storms hitting the state earlier this month that delayed inoculations. 

The health department also confirmed that Shelby County health officials had approximately 51,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in their inventory, nearly 30,000 doses more than what they should have stockpiled in order to plan for several weeks of distribution. 

The excess doses are not expected to expire until early next month, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey confirmed in a Tuesday press conference.

“It’s important that we get this right for the people of Shelby County and for the state as a whole as we work to ensure equitable and efficient distribution of this life-saving vaccine to Tennesseans in all communities, especially those most vulnerable and underserved” Piercey said in the Tuesday statement.

As a result of the investigation, Shelby County health officials will no longer be permitted to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. Instead, Memphis city officials, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and other partners will distribute the vaccinations.

The state investigation has also resulted in firings.

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State health officials found that Shelby County Health Department employees did not have direct access to the vaccine supply. Only one pharmacist, who is not a Shelby County employee and instead was hired under contract, had direct access to the vaccines.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris (D) announced Tuesday that the city fired the health department site manager who was responsible for overseeing the relationship with the contract pharmacist. The county also asked for the pharmacist to be removed from the administration of the vaccines.

Tennessee health officials have administered at least 767,826 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine, making up approximately 11.2 percent of the state’s population, according to a dashboard from The Washington Post.