KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knox County Health Department lacked formal procedures to keep track of inventory when an employee accidentally threw away a box of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during the height of the pandemic, an independent auditor found.
The review, conducted by company Pugh, also found flaws in the department's physical security in areas where the vaccine and other medical supplies are stored.
When the department paid its bills, it didn't have a process to determine whether it had actually received the supplies and medication for which it was paying, the audit said.
Investigations by KCHD and the Knoxville Police Department found no criminal activity when the 975 Pfizer doses were reported missing in February; an employee thought the box of vaccine only contained dry ice. Video obtained by 10News through a public records request showed an employee accepting the delivery and later throwing it into a dumpster.
The five-page audit outlines KCHD's lack of procedures to account for inventory, which may explain why an employee didn't know the box from Pfizer contained lifesaving vaccine.
"The Health Department does not maintain a formal inventory control system or inventory procedures to produce an accurate count on inventory at any given time," the auditors said.
In a statement, KCHD spokesperson Kelsey Wilson said the department conducted an internal review and implemented changes immediately after the vaccine went missing. She said that included adding a pharmacist as part of a team to oversee vaccine management and developing a new inventory tracking system.
"We want to note that the volume of vaccine and the pace at which it was coming during this time was unlike anything the Health Department and the country had seen before. The system to receive this vaccine was stressed and therefore an unfortunate mistake was made," Wilson said.
The Pugh report detailed a hodgepodge of inventory systems unique to each department within KCHD that didn't work in tandem and recommended KCHD hire a full-time inventory control manager to implement a new department-wide inventory system.
It also raised concerns about oversight within the KCHD's operations team that could leave the department "vulnerable to theft or misappropriation."
Wilson said KCHD began working on a uniform process to receive shipments and limited access to certain areas of its building prior to receiving the Pugh report.
"We are grateful for Pugh’s expertise and believe the findings included in the report are helpful We have already begun to implement them within the Health Department," Wilson said.