Knox County Health Department announced Wednesday 975 doses of the Pfizer COVID vaccine are missing. County health director Dr. Martha Buchanan said she believes the health department inadvertently threw them away.
"What we believe happened is that they were discarded or disposed of believing that it was just a box of dry ice," Buchanan said.
According to Buchanan, the Pfizer vaccine shipments do not have packing slips, and are mailed in boxes that look similar to ones that contain only dry ice.
She said that on Friday, January 29, the Health Department received and disposed of a box that employees believed only contained dry ice. When the Health Department received vaccine doses last week, in a similar-looking package, employees realized the tossed January 29 box may have included vaccine as well.
"This past week we received a shipment and the dry ice came at the same time," Buchanan said. "When we looked at that and realized the differences in the boxes and the appearance of the shipment, that's when our team member was like, 'Oh goodness, maybe there was a second-dose shipment that I thought was dry ice."
According to Buchanan, the Tennessee Department of Health confirmed Tuesday that the missing 975 doses of Pfizer vaccines were indeed sent Knox County Health Department. Buchanan said the health department has lingering questions about why Pfizer wasn't notified when the box was thrown away as all vaccine shipments have tracking devices on them.
The 975 missing vaccine doses were allocated for second dose appointments. The county is now pulling from a pool of would-be first doses in order to meet the needs of prescheduled second dose appointments. Dr. Buchanan said she does not know yet whether the state will allocate an extra 975 doses in the future to make up for the lost vaccine.
Buchanan described the loss of the vaccine doses a "gut punch" and became emotional as she described the situtation.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said in a statement, “I am proud of Dr. Martha Buchanan and I am confident in the good work the Knox County Health Department does every day. I certainly wish this had not happened, but I also think it’s unrealistic to believe that when you’re undertaking an operation of this magnitude mistakes won’t be made. KCHD is taking a close look at their processes and will do everything they can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
See the full press conference regarding the missing vaccine doses below.