KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — To help perhaps shed light on the case, the Knoxville Police Department and an accounting firm have joined in the effort to find out what happened to a box of 975 virus vaccines determined last week to be missing in Knox County.
Dr. Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department, asked KPD to see what its investigators could learn, according to an announcement Monday by Mayor Glenn Jacobs' office.
Also, the Pugh accounting firm will look into the matter.
KPD's review will be to ensure no crime was involved, and it will then forward whatever it learns to Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen.
Pugh will look at accounting controls and internal steps taken or not taken in handling the material, county officials said.
Jacobs told 10News on Friday he doesn't think "foul play" is involved, and he discounted the chance that the vaccines could have been taken and sold privately.
On Wednesday, the Health Department announced it couldn't account for a shipment of the Pfizer vaccine it had supposedly received.
An employee may have inadvertently tossed it, thinking it contained only dry ice, Buchanan said.
There's also some debate about whether it actually ever was received. Pfizer told WBIR last week its records show the shipment got to the Health Department.
"Nothing so far has indicated malicious intent or criminal activity and we want to confirm that,” Jacobs said in a statement 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 said in Monday's release she was happy to have a "third-party" review.
"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.”
According to the county, it could take several weeks or months for KPD and Pugh to finish their investigation and whatever it might yield.
The Tennessee Department of Health said last week it also was working with the county Health Department to investigate what it believes was "human error."
KCHD said last week it's changing its protocols for handling vaccines.
Moving forward, KCHD said two employees will greet every box of vaccine when it arrives and every shipping box, regardless of content, will be fully inspected before it is discarded.
In addition, KCHD will create calendar reminders to advise when second doses should arrive and will check with the county's IT workers to ensure notification emails from the vaccine manufacturer are not being stopped by firewalls.
The first realization that there might be an issue with a box of vaccine doses came Thursday, Feb. 4, the Health Department said.
After months of receiving and distributing the Moderna shot, it had begun to get shipments of Pfizer vaccine, which requires unique ultra-cold storage procedures involving dry ice.
The first box of 975 Pfizer shots arrived approximately three weeks ago without any issues, the department said. For the first time in years, the department also received some dry ice to aid with the storage of the vaccine.
Eighteen days later, according to state plans, the state Department of Health directed Pfizer to send KCHD a second box of 975 shots designated for second doses.
KCHD said it received a shipment notification for this second box, but "it contained an inaccurate/nonfunctioning tracking number." It said there was no confirmation of delivery, but a box of some kind did arrive. Sometime later, a differently designed box with only dry ice inside arrived as well.
It was not until Feb. 4, when an employee realized the department did not have the second-dose Pfizer shots it was expecting, that the alarm was raised.
"KCHD immediately reached out to the Tennessee Department of Health to investigate," a health department spokesperson said.
Five days later, on Tuesday, Feb. 9, the state told KCHD the vaccines were shipped and delivered to the health department.
KCHD went public with news about the missing vaccine the following day.