Published February 22, 2021
The Center Square [By Vivian Jones]-
Around 1,315 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine scheduled to be administered in Shelby County expired as winter weather closed vaccination sites, the Shelby County Health Department announced Friday.
Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said the health department was not informed the doses were about to expire. The department contracts with a pharmacy, and the pharmacist is responsible for managing the vaccine and thawing doses in the appropriate timeline for use. The vaccine spoilage was first reported by the Commercial Appeal.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires storage at very cold temperatures and must be thawed before being administered. Once thawed, the vaccine has a lifespan of five days, according to Pfizer. Vaccine doses cannot be refrozen.
“It looks like just mismanagement and lack of inventory control when you have a whole case of Pfizer vaccines, is what we suspect, go bad,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton told The Center Square in an interview Friday. “That’s just poor inventory control.”
If Haushalter had been aware of the number of vials set to expire, the Tennessee Department of Health could have helped facilitate getting the vaccine doses to other counties, Sexton said. The department has helped facilitate transport of soon-to-expire vaccine doses from counties where they are not able to be administered to areas in need.
“We’ll see if their statement about it was due to the weather is valid,” Sexton said. “If weather did [play a role], it still does not make up for the fact of not knowing what you have in inventory and what was going to expire.”
State coronavirus response officials traveled to Memphis on Friday, Tennessee Department of Health spokesman Bill Christian told The Center Square.
“The Unified Command Group has sent personnel today to Memphis to assess the vaccine situation and provide support as Shelby County navigates issues with weather and water supply,” Christian said.
The Tennessee Department of Health received no reports Thursday of wasted or spoiled vaccine statewide, despite the winter weather event.
“Best part of my day was transporting 80 vaccines that were not used due to the weather and close to expiring to a ‘pop up’ clinic in north Nashville where all were used,” Nashville’s COVID-19 Taskforce Chairman Dr. Alex Jahangir shared Friday on Twitter.
More than 103,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Shelby County, according to the health department.
About the Author:
Vivian Jones, The Center Square Staff Reporter
Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.