State concludes health department needs more training, better chain of command

By  and , Daily Memphian Updated: May 14, 2021 11:01 PM CT | Published: May 14, 2021 3:43 PM CT

The Shelby County Health Department wasted roughly 2,400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine due to poor record-keeping and communication and lack of formalized policies, according to a newly released report from the Tennessee Department of Health.

As a result, state health officials conclude more training is needed and a clear chain of command should be identified before the local health department takes on future large-scale vaccination efforts.

On the positive side, the state determined no one who received a vaccine needs to get another one due to problems cited in the investigation.


State outlines theft, waste in Shelby County vaccine program; FBI alerted


The report, dated May 12 and released to The Daily Memphian Friday, May 14, relates to allegations made by the state in February that led to vaccine distribution being taken away from the local health department and turned over to the city of Memphis.

“The team determined wastage had been accumulating over weeks and identified an excessive amount of unused vaccine on-site, as well as a lack of formalized policies and procedures for the storage and handling of COVID vaccines,” the TDH report states.

The report also mentions an alleged theft of vaccines by a volunteer but says only that the incident was reported to law enforcement and not to the state Health Department’s immunization program.


Series of miscues led to Haushalter’s rapid fall from grace


County leaders, who have been eagerly awaiting the state’s report, could not immediately be reached Friday for comment, but county Mayor Lee Harris said last week on the WKNO Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines” that he has found no evidence to support any of the state’s allegations.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland “respectfully” declined to comment on the report Friday.

The specific recommendations in the report include:

  • Ongoing assessment and corrective actions to support the vaccine program should be carried out once new leadership is identified in SCHD. A comprehensive list of action items will be provided to SCHD by CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and TDH for remediation.
  • Available evidence supported that individuals received stable COVID vaccine doses from SCHD POD sites, and revaccination is not recommended based on these data.
  • SCHD should review and formalize processes for training, pharmacy operations, cold chain management and record-keeping before implementing any future large-scale vaccine operations.
  • Clear chain of command and defined responsibilities from POD operations to headquarters need to be adopted to ensure reporting of mishandling, wastage or other improper activity is addressed promptly and adequately.

SCHD initially disclosed roughly 1,600 wasted doses, then admitted to an additional 800 after it learned of an FBI investigation. SCHD was forced to transfer vaccine distribution to the City of Memphis Feb, 24. SCHD Director Alisa Haushalter resigned shortly after and a search is underway for a new director.


The ‘buck stops’ at Shelby Co. Health Department


“Multiple deficiencies were identified in the SCHD management of vaccine inventory including wastage, a large accumulation of unused doses and inadequate record- keeping,” the report states. You can read the entire report below:

Additionally, there was a “communication breakdown” between pharmacies and SCHD nursing staff, the report concluded. SCHD did not include certain “Vaccines For Children” officials in communications. The department didn’t report administered doses “in a timely and accurate fashion” and didn’t designate a records repository.

SCHD produced complete records of vaccine temperature for only 71% of vaccination events and logged the data by hand. The report states that at eight events, or roughly 9% of all events, officials allowed the vaccines to slip outside the recommended temperature.

SCHD reports that 245,812 Shelby County residents have been fully vaccinated and 85,596 have been partially vaccinated. Those numbers represent 35.79% of the county population that has received at least one dose. 

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Topics

COVID 19 vaccines Tennessee Department of Health Shelby County Health Department Alisa Haushalter

Ian Round

Ian Round is The Daily Memphian’s state government reporter. He came to Tennessee from Maryland where he reported on local politics for Baltimore Brew. He earned a Master of Journalism degree from the University of Maryland in December 2019.

Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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