Harris says he has confidence in health department leader; state says mayor confirmed more violations


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An investigation is now underway after 2,400 vaccines were wasted and a state investigation found 30,000 vaccines just sitting on a shelf.

But Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says he still has confidence in the health department director and he says not all of the state’s accusations are true, calling it theater. 

“There was 50,000 doses on the shelf. But a lot of those doses were for teacher vaccinations and for missed appointments, so a lot of this story hasn’t been told,” Harris said. “So we’re going to tell this story and put out the right information.”

 Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey released a statement late Wednesday saying the county should not have stockpiled vaccines.

“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.

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.”

Lisa Piercey

Health Department takes heat after investigation into wasted vaccines

But when we tried to ask Harris about his side of the story Wednesday, he didn’t answer.

He then went on to blame Tennessee Governor Bill Lee for the problems here in Shelby County. 

“I think he’s not doing an active job of managing this pandemic. I think he’s focused too much on issues that are beside the point,” Harris said.

He would not answer a follow-up question about his role, only taking questions from three reporters.

He would not speak to his role directly, only taking questions from three reporters saying he didn’t want to steer away from a teacher COVID-19 vaccination event. 

We monitored that event throughout the day, where hundreds of teachers successfully received their shot. 

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray says his team has been ready to host a mass vaccination event for weeks. 

Last Friday they found out there was a possibility they could start the vaccination process. They were ready despite the short turnaround. 

“We weren’t going to turn down any opportunity to get our teachers vaccinated,” Ray said.

We also asked the mayor about the internal investigation related to the county’s vaccination troubles. He did not answer our question.

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