975 vaccines

Dr. Martha Buchanan speaks at the virtual Knox County Board of Health meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2021.

During the Knox County Board of Health’s bi-weekly meeting Wednesday night, Dr. Martha Buchanan, senior director of the Knox County Health Department, said that the KCHD had inadvertently disposed of a tray of 975 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines that the department believes workers had confused with dry ice shipments.

“The Pfizer vaccine comes in a pretty nondescript box and without...packing slips,” Buchanan said. “It was a set of second dose vaccines that we had not been given advance notice that they were coming and it looked liked a pack of dry ice which they also ship.”

Most likely, the mistake was not simply the fault of the KCHD, but was also the result of technical failings on the part of Pfizer. In a media briefing earlier Tuesday afternoon, Buchanan said that the health department had requested an investigation from the state into how the various tracking and monitoring mechanisms had seemingly failed.

“The boxes have monitors on them, no alert was ever received,” Buchanan said. “The temperature monitor didn’t work, the tracking on the box didn’t work and we need to know why.”

The KCHD normally receives Moderna vaccines, which are processed under a different system from their Pfizer counterparts.

During the Board of Health meeting, Buchanan reported that the mistake was caught by KCHD employees and not the state or Pfizer, and she expressed gratitude to her team for how they have handled the unfortunate situation.

She said that those patients whose second dose was lost will receive the next batch of vaccinations, which the KCHD already has on hand.

“[I’m] really really proud of my team for their speaking up and their integrity,” Buchanan said. “If you’ve ever met any of my team, they have a passion for protecting the community and work really hard and diligently...no one’s going to miss their second dose because of this.”

At the beginning of the Board of Health’s meeting, they heard concerns from local Knox County educators over the safety at schools during the public forum.

Betsy Hobkirk, an elementary school art teacher, said that studies which have found a low probability of COVID-19 spread at schools are being misused to overlook the safety of teachers.

“I’m concerned that these headlines have been oversimplified into the idea that the virus can’t spread in schools, and it’s critical to look closely at the safety procedures that were in place during the studies,” Hobkirk said. “I am not currently feeling that safe in Knox County as a teacher, because I feel like we’re not using that same level of mitigation strategies.”

Hobkirk said that consistent social distancing is impossible at most schools, and that students and staff often wear masks incorrectly. She urged the board to renew the mask mandate and to work towards vaccinating K-12 teachers, who will be eligible in the state’s next rollout phase.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said that the county cannot choose to move forward to phase 1b of the rollout plan, which would allow K-12 teacher to receive the vaccine.

“No matter what happens, we don’t control the amount of supply coming into Knox County,” Mayor Jacobs said. “It is gradually going up, but nevertheless, it’s not like we can flip a switch or demand that we get, you know, thousands more doses. That’s just not gonna happen.”

Currently, Knox County is in phases 1a1 and 1a2, which allow frontline healthcare workers and high-risk disabled residents to get the vaccine. The county is also vaccinating those above the age of 70.

On Monday, the Nashville city government announced that the city would be moving into phase 1b of the vaccine rollout, but Buchanan said that Knox County would not move into the next phase until directed by the state.

“It’s not that we don’t think teachers should be vaccinated, it’s just that supply and the dictates of the state are controlling us, controlling what we can do,” Buchanan said. “We will continue to follow the state in this matter.”

Buchanan updated the board on the latest COVID-19 statistics and benchmarks. As of Tuesday afternoon, 56,424 doses of vaccine had been administered and 8.28% of the county’s population had received at least one dose. The county surpassed 500 COVID-19 deaths this week, and currently has 70 hospitalizations.

The board voted in a series of 7-1 votes to extend until March 4 the restaurant occupancy limitation and early closure regulation, which limits restaurant occupancy by 50% and requires all establishments to close by 11 p.m., as well as the social gathering limitation regulation, which limits the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings to 10 per 360 square feet. Mayor Jacobs provided the dissenting vote in both cases.

In general, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have trended downwards since they spiked in December, and are now fairly stable.

Dr. James Shamiyeh, a pulmonologist and Chief Quality Officer for UT Medical Center, warned about the so-called “COVID fatigue” that Knoxvillians are experiencing as the county nears the one year anniversary of the pandemic. He said that without extended masking requirements and limitations on indoor gatherings, the progress that the county has made recently could be lost.

“We need to be careful about the message we’re sending that this is still an important time for us to buckle down,” Shamiyeh said. “Or it could possibly go in the other direction.”

“The Pfizer vaccine comes in a pretty nondescript box and without...packing slips,” Buchanan said. “It was a set of second dose vaccines that we had not been given advance notice that they were coming and it looked liked a pack of dry ice which they also ship.”

Most likely, the mistake was not simply the fault of the KCHD, but was also the result of technical failings on the part of Pfizer. In a media briefing earlier Tuesday afternoon, Buchanan said that the health department had requested an investigation from the state into how the various tracking and monitoring mechanisms had seemingly failed.

“The boxes have monitors on them, no alert was ever received,” Buchanan said. “The temperature monitor didn’t work, the tracking on the box didn’t work and we need to know why.”

The KCHD normally receives Moderna vaccines, which are processed under a different system from their Pfizer counterparts.

During the Board of Health meeting, Buchanan reported that the mistake was caught by KCHD employees and not the state or Pfizer, and she expressed gratitude to her team for how they have handled the unfortunate situation.

She said that those patients whose second dose was lost will receive the next batch of vaccinations, which the KCHD already has on hand.

“[I’m] really really proud of my team for their speaking up and their integrity,” Buchanan said. “If you’ve ever met any of my team, they have a passion for protecting the community and work really hard and diligently...no one’s going to miss their second dose because of this.”

At the beginning of the Board of Health’s meeting, they heard concerns from local Knox County educators over the safety at schools during the public forum.

Betsy Hobkirk, an elementary school art teacher, said that studies which have found a low probability of COVID-19 spread at schools are being misused to overlook the safety of teachers.

“I’m concerned that these headlines have been oversimplified into the idea that the virus can’t spread in schools, and it’s critical to look closely at the safety procedures that were in place during the studies,” Hobkirk said. “I am not currently feeling that safe in Knox County as a teacher, because I feel like we’re not using that same level of mitigation strategies.”

Hobkirk said that consistent social distancing is impossible at most schools, and that students and staff often wear masks incorrectly. She urged the board to renew the mask mandate and to work towards vaccinating K-12 teachers, who will be eligible in the state’s next rollout phase.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said that the county cannot choose to move forward to phase 1b of the rollout plan, which would allow K-12 teacher to receive the vaccine.

“No matter what happens, we don’t control the amount of supply coming into Knox County,” Mayor Jacobs said. “It is gradually going up, but nevertheless, it’s not like we can flip a switch or demand that we get, you know, thousands more doses. That’s just not gonna happen.”

Currently, Knox County is in phases 1a1 and 1a2, which allow frontline healthcare workers and high-risk disabled residents to get the vaccine. The county is also vaccinating those above the age of 70.

On Monday, the Nashville city government announced that the city would be moving into phase 1b of the vaccine rollout, but Buchanan said that Knox County would not move into the next phase until directed by the state.

“It’s not that we don’t think teachers should be vaccinated, it’s just that supply and the dictates of the state are controlling us, controlling what we can do,” Buchanan said. “We will continue to follow the state in this matter.”

Buchanan updated the board on the latest COVID-19 statistics and benchmarks. As of Tuesday afternoon, 56,424 doses of vaccine had been administered and 8.28% of the county’s population had received at least one dose. The county surpassed 500 COVID-19 deaths this week, and currently has 70 hospitalizations.

The board voted in a series of 7-1 votes to extend until March 4 the restaurant occupancy limitation and early closure regulation, which limits restaurant occupancy by 50% and requires all establishments to close by 11 p.m., as well as the social gathering limitation regulation, which limits the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings to 10 per 360 square feet. Mayor Jacobs provided the dissenting vote in both cases.

In general, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have trended downwards since they spiked in December, and are now fairly stable.

Dr. James Shamiyeh, a pulmonologist and Chief Quality Officer for UT Medical Center, warned about the so-called “COVID fatigue” that Knoxvillians are experiencing as the county nears the one year anniversary of the pandemic. He said that without extended masking requirements and limitations on indoor gatherings, the progress that the county has made recently could be lost.

“We need to be careful about the message we’re sending that this is still an important time for us to buckle down,” Shamiyeh said. “Or it could possibly go in the other direction.”

UT Sponsored Content