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Knox County Initiates Third-Party Probes for Lost Vaccines

File Photo/KCHD

Knox County external auditor Pugh CPA and the Knoxville Police Department have been asked to investigate what happened to a box of Pfizer COVID vaccines believed to have been accidentally thrown away at the Knox County Health Department nearly three weeks ago.

The health department says an internal investigation indicates a box containing 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine was disposed of in late January because it looked substantially similar to a box that would normally contain only dry ice. The box also arrived on a Friday, the typical day for dry ice shipments. It was only later that health officials realized the box likely contained the vaccines.

Pugh was contacted by Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, on the advice of District Attorney General Charme Allen. County public health officer Dr. Martha Buchanan contacted KPD, according to a statement from Jacobs' office.

“Nothing so far has indicated malicious intent or criminal activity and we want to confirm that,” Jacobs said Monday. “We do know a serious mistake was made because of a series of process issues at the health department. We need to fully understand every aspect of the mistake to be sure it won’t happen again.”

Buchanan announced the incident February 10. Responding to concerns the vaccine loss would disrupt the county's vaccination campaign, Buchanan said everyone scheduled for a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine would get it. The lost box was destined for a vaccination event that wasn't even on the books yet; no clinics were cancelled as a result of the mistake. Though KCHD has expressed a preference for the Moderna vaccine, which it says is easier to handle and store, the department said late last week it would still recieve Pfizer doses and the county's vaccination efforts would continue.

“As public health officials, we fully understand the gravity of this situation, and we welcome the third-party reviews,” Dr. Buchanan said Monday. “We are eager to fully cooperate with the investigations. As we learn more about what exactly occurred, we will continue to implement process improvements and stronger safeguards.” 

Jacobs' office says no more official comments will be released until the Pugh and KPD findings are shared with county officials, which could be several weeks from now.

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