MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Health officials confirmed Friday that more than 1,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses that were set to expire had to be discarded this week.
Most Shelby County Health Department vaccination sites were closed and vaccination appointments because of the ice, snow and extreme cold of the past week.
Dr. Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department, said the department was able to give out “well over 2,000” doses before they expired, despite challenges from ice and snow this week.
“The majority of our vaccine was used and we were able to get that out despite all of the inclement weather,” she said.
Haushalter said that around 1,200 of them went to teachers, and others went to county inmates and detainees.
We’re definitely going to take advantage of being able to receive the vaccine,” said Danette Stokes, president of the United Education Association of Shelby County.
Haushalter said some doses of the Pfizer vaccine were prepared to be used by those who had scheduled appointments, but all COVID vaccination sites were closed due to the weather Thursday. Those doses have to be used within five days of being removed from a frozen state.
But Haushaulter said she didn’t realize until last Friday that another 1,315 doses of the vaccine were sitting around spoiling. They had to be discarded.
“If we had known an expiration date, we would have done anything that we could to get them out,” Haushalter said.
Haushalter said a pharmacist for the health department, contracted through Regional One, is in charge of keeping up with vaccine expiration dates. During Friday’s briefing, Haushaulter didn’t explain why the pharmacist didn’t notify the health department.
Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner, who is listed Regional One’s Board of Directors, acknowledged the situation could have been avoided.
“Was this something that should have been guarded against before? The answer to that is yes,” Turner told WREG.
Turner said Shelby County Commissioners will discuss the issue during their Monday meeting and that he’d also like to hear from Regional One. At the same time, he said he isn’t inclined to point fingers at anyone.
“If someone had stated where the vaccine was taken and dumped or the vaccine was taken and sold on the black market or some nefarious activity had taken place, I think I would be more up in arms. But it just seems like the wires were crossed,” said Turner.
Another Shelby County commissioner said his first time learning of the discarded vaccines was when WREG called.
Haushalter said the department will begin removing only small batches of vaccine.
Starting next week, the Shelby County Health Department will begin vaccinating teachers and individuals over the age of 65.