CDC report exonerates Health Department, Randolph says

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 18, 2021 4:03 PM CT | Published: March 18, 2021 12:49 PM CT

In the Centers for Disease Control report released this week, authorities confirmed that the Shelby County Health Department had maintained cold chain for vaccine in its custody from Dec. 28, 2020, to Feb. 24, 2021.

The Health Department has said little publicly about the imbroglio over allegations leveled by the Tennessee Department of Health of shoddy record-keeping and mismanagement.

Investigations find COVID doses were stable, safe

Thursday, health director Dr. Bruce Randolph broke the quiet, saying the department had been exonerated. He publicly thanked former director Alisa Haushalter and two other staffers, Judy Martin and Marilyn Bruce, who left the department in the dustup, and others who worked behind the scenes.

Harris appoints interim Health Department director

“I want to just publicly acknowledge and thank all of you for your effort, your sacrifice, for the professional work that you did,” Randolph said.

“I know that we have taken some uncalled for, unjustified criticism in the media, but I want to tell you that this report in my opinion exonerates us and it shows that we did our job and you can hold your head up and not be ashamed.”

Released emails show early vaccine questions between Memphis, county health officials

The report means that 47,000 people do not have to be revaccinated, “and that had been thrown out as a possibility,” he said.

A reporter questioned how the CDC report exonerated the department when it did not address a possible theft of vaccine or that two children received vaccinations that are now only approved for adults.

There were no witnesses of the alleged theft; law enforcement who investigated found no evidence to press charges.

“And the vaccination of children did not occur as a result of a Shelby County nurse or staff person giving that vaccine,” Randolph responded. “That is something that needs to be brought out and clarified. Those incidents occurred at sites that were not controlled and manned by the Health Department.”

The sites were run by the City of Memphis and University of Tennessee Health Science Center, he said.

The Health Department provided the vaccine and nurses to oversee the cold chain only.

“And so, we have gotten blamed for something that the Health Department staff and nurses did not do,” he said. “And I think it is my duty as the health officer to bring that out.”

Weather may bump up lines

Lines for vaccination will likely be longer through the weekend as people try to make up for Wednesday’s weather-canceled appointments.

Public COVID-19 vaccination sites closed Wednesday

The City of Memphis has some advice: Make a new appointment; don’t just show up.

“If you had an appointment and you haven’t rescheduled yet, you need to reschedule,” said Gina Sweat, Memphis Fire Department director. “You can do that either at COVID-19.Memphistn.gov or you can call the 222-SHOT hotline.”

The city added more appointments to cover the expected increase in demand, and as of Thursday, there were a few slots open, an indication the weather cancellation is being absorbed into the system.

The wait won’t be hours like it was before the city took over public drive-through sites, but it could be longer than 15 minutes, Sweat said.

While the city opened extra appointments for Moderna second doses, people who didn’t get them can get those doses through clinics or drug-store chains. For help, email details of when the first dose was given to COVID19help@MemphisTN.gov.

“We will try to make sure we connect you with either a facility or an appointment somewhere so that you can get your second dose,” Sweat said.

New appointments for the following week are released at noon on Fridays.

For several weeks, the city has been identifying ZIP codes with low vaccination participation rates and targeting them with pop-up sites.

Sweat said officials are pushing more vaccines to partners in the community such as clinics, dialysis centers and doctors’ offices.

“Now, we need to be more targeted to communities with low take-up,” she said. 

In a clinic planned this weekend at Hickory Ridge Mall through World Overcomers Church, nearly 1,200 appointments are taken.

“I think that is a great story that we reached out in that community and people took advantage of those appointments,” she said.

More than 2,000 doses were administered in Frayser last weekend, she said. A new pop-up at Melrose High School in Orange Mound will be announced soon.

The city for now is receiving mostly Pfizer vaccine. It will get more of the Johnson & Johnson doses in early April.

Bugs in new appointment system driving residents batty


The city changed vaccine scheduling systems last Friday to the state-run VRAS and quickly changed back to SignUpGenius early Saturday, March 13, after hearing from residents who couldn’t register for second doses if they had received their first outside the priority phases and other issues.

Initially, the change was driven by the need to align with the state-run call center.

Shelby County returns to SignUpGenius

“It wasn’t that we couldn’t make VRAS work, but we had so much momentum going and we didn’t want to stop that momentum,” Sweat said. 

“We didn’t want to stop that momentum by switching over to a system that wasn’t working for the community.”

Calls to 222-SHOT continue to be taken by the state’s call center. 

Meaningful news delivered to you each week

Coverage of the key happenings in our city including city hall, education, and more.

Manage Your Email Subscriptions


Gina Sweat city of Memphis coronavirus Johnson & Johnson Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Moderna second dose Dr. Bruce Randolph
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


Reading comments and joining the conversation are some of the many benefits of subscribing. Join the conversation by clicking the View Comments button below. Not a subscriber? Click here. 

Our commenting policy can be viewed here

Meaningful news delivered to you each week

Coverage of the key happenings in our city including city hall, education, and more.

Manage Your Email Subscriptions