City of Memphis takes over vaccine distribution amid scandal. Here’s what you need to know

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The city of Memphis will take over vaccination efforts after the state of Tennessee stripped Shelby County of its power to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine.

Appointments that have already been scheduled will be honored and people can continue to schedule appointments on the Shelby County website for at least another few weeks. Eventually the city said it will transfer to the state’s appointment system.

The same vaccination sites will be used, including the Pipkin building, Appling building and Southwest Tennessee Community College.

The city also plans to work with the University of Memphis to set up a call center to reserve appointments for people without internet access. People who have called the county’s number in the past complained they could never get through.

The city also said it will crack down on line jumpers by verifying the identity of everyone who gets a shot. Up to this point, the county had been using the honor system, but some people got the shot before they qualified.

The state of Tennessee will deliver the vaccine to the city as well as pharmacies and hospitals.

This all came to light during a news conference on February 19 when the Shelby County Health Department revealed that 1,315 doses of the vaccine that were set to expire had to be discarded after ice and snow closed vaccination sites. The Tennessee Department of Health conducted an investigation on the matter and determined there were several problems with the handling of the vaccines:

  • Seven incidents of vaccine waste amounting to more than 2,400 wasted doses
  • 51,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in inventory. This amounts to an excess of about 30,000 doses. The goal is to administer the vaccine within seven to 10 days of receipt.
  • Lack of standard operating procedures for storage and handling of the vaccine
  • Insufficient record keeping
  • No formal process for management of soon-to-expire vaccine doses

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said they are investigating the matter and fired the site manager who managed the relationship with a pharmacist in charge of the vaccine. The county also asked for the pharmacist in charge, who is a contractor and not a county employee, be removed.

State Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis) said Wednesday she was disappointed and concerned by news of the wasted vaccines in Shelby County. However, she said the priority now should be getting vaccines out to the community.

“This is not a time to be pointing fingers to point blame,” Lamar said. “What this is, is an opportunity for us to realize that we do need more resources and staff and Shelby County and that there are more things we need to put in place in order to ensure that we can get the vaccines out in an effective and efficient manner.”

The health department said 110,546 doses of COVID vaccine have been administered in Shelby County as of Wednesday, and 32,714 people had received their second dose.

Earlier this month, the state investigated the Knox County Health Department in East Tennessee after 975 doses were accidentally thrown away.

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