The head of the Shelby County Health Department has resigned, and state officials are calling for a federal investigation following more reports of wasted COVID vaccine — a new allegations that some doses were stolen — in the state’s largest county.
Dr. Alisa Haushalter announced late Friday that she would step down as the health department’s director after the state’s ongoing investigation found that several shots may have been stolen from a site early this month. Tennessee’s health commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, says Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris confirmed reports about the incidents Thursday, but they date back several weeks.
Information is still coming to light, but Piercey says it appears to involve a volunteer helping at a vaccination site and leaving with an unknown number of syringes loaded with vaccine.
According to the Shelby County Health Department, the incident involved a “medical professional” and was reported to police, who concluded there was “insufficient information to file a report of any theft or unlawful conduct.” But the Tennessee Health Department has alerted the FBI, which is expected to launch an investigation.
While she started the week giving the Shelby County Health Department the benefit of the doubt, Piercey has grown increasingly frustrated as local leaders have made additional disclosures. Prior to Haushalter’s resignation on Friday, Piercey called the Shelby County Health Department a “low accountability organization.”
“There does appear to be a lack of accountability and — in some sense — leadership,” Piercey says, “which has undoubtedly, potentially harmed some folks.”
Harris had defended his health director and now accepts some blame.
“I do bear responsibility as one of the leaders in this community, and I’m going to have to work hard to rebuild public trust around the fair and just distribution of the vaccine and its administration,” he says.
Also disclosed from earlier this month: Two children of undetermined age are believed to have been inappropriately vaccinated. No COVID vaccine currently in use in the U.S. has been approved for those under the age of 16. Again, the violation involved a volunteer.
“The volunteer who was on site gave the vaccine because the volunteer believed that was what he or she was supposed to do if the person had an appointment,” Piercey says. It’s unclear how the children received an appointment in the first place.
State officials say the incidents are adding to a growing list of missteps. The state’s initial inquiry documented that thousands of doses expired this month, but investigators have now found more recent instances of shots going bad. They include a batch of 76 going to waste this week, though some of those can’t be accounted for.
A team from the state is now working with the health department.
WPLN’s Blake Farmer contributed to this report.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect the resignation of the Shelby County Health Department’s director, Dr. Alisa Haushalter, on Friday afternoon.