Lisa Piercey

Dr. Lisa Piercey is the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health.

The Tennessee Department of Health called a virtual news conference Tuesday afternoon to update the investigation into the Shelby County Health Department’s reported wasting of 1,000 expired COVID-19 vaccine doses last week.

Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey provided details about the investigation and later answered questions from the media, announced the imminent relaxation of safety guidelines for visitors at nursing, assisted living and long-term care facilities, and clarified the timeline for the second dose of vaccination.

“We’re almost completely finished with 100% vaccination at all (those care) facilities in Tennessee,” Piercey said. “After that vaccination is complete, which is scheduled to be at the end of this week, we will no longer be restricting any visitation at nursing homes. They will only be under the restrictions of their governing body.”

Piercey expected more information to be released regarding visitor guidelines by the end of the week. The new guidance will be effective Feb. 28.

The commissioner recognized that some Tennesseans awaiting their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine are anxious due to scheduling delays resulting from the winter storms last week. Piercey reassured those waiting that they have up to six weeks from their first vaccination to get a second dose.

The initial immunization card may call patients back within three or four weeks of getting the vaccine (whether getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, respectively). That date is the earliest that patients can get their next dose, Piercey noted. The immunization process is not interrupted if the second dose comes several days after that date.

Piercey also noted that the Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to meet and approve the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the end of the week, with doses arriving in Tennessee as early as next week.

Expired doses

The Governor's Unified Command Group sent state investigators to the Shelby County Health Department on Feb. 19 after learning that more than 1,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had expired and were discarded.

The investigation is ongoing, but so far seven incidents of vaccine waste amounting to more than 2,400 expired doses have been documented. The Health Department also determined an excess of 30,000 doses in the county’s current stockpile of 51,000 doses, meaning those doses should have been distributed.

The department cited a lack of standard operating procedures for storage and handling of the vaccine, insufficient record keeping and no formal process for management of soon-to-expire vaccine doses among the issues contributing to the problem. The physical management of the vaccine will be transferred from the Shelby County Health Department to Tennessee Department of Health hospital, pharmacy and community partners, along with the city of Memphis.

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