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Tennessee governor pushes back on youth vaccination claims

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 5:55 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee Governor’s Office is responding to the controversy swirling the Tennessee Department of Health.

Monday, Tennessee’s top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, said she had been fired for sharing factual information with doctors about vaccinating minors.

“I was given a choice to resign or be terminated, and I chose to be terminated because I hadn’t done anything wrong,” said Fiscus.

The Tennessee Democratic party is calling for Fiscus to be reinstated.

“We’re calling on the governor to reinstate Dr. Fiscus and to recommit the Tennessee Department of Health to carrying out its mission to protect, promote, and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee,” the party said in a statement.

The governor’s office says it won’t comment on personnel matters, but they are pushing back on claims regarding children’s vaccinations.

The governor’s office sent WMC the following statement:

Despite misleading reporting, the Department of Health has not halted the Vaccines for Children Program that provides information and vaccine access to Tennessee parents. This program covers immunizations including DTap, MMR, Polio, Chicken Pox and Hepatitis B and will continue to be successfully administered:

  • Tennessee ranked among the top 10 states for MMR vaccination coverage among kindergartners during the 2019-2020 school year
  • 95.3 percent of 2020-2021 kindergarten students in TN were fully immunized
  • For more than a decade Tennessee has above 90 percent coverage of kindergarten students receiving childhood immunizations including DTap, MMR, Polio, Chicken Pox, Hepatitis B.

The department is mindful of ensuring parents, not kids, are the intended audience for any outreach efforts regarding medical decisions for children and has simply re-evaluated some tactics like reminder postcards and follow-up communications. While childhood immunization rates temporarily dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are already seeing vaccination rates rebound to pre-pandemic levels and will continue supporting parents who are working to get their families back on track.

Fiscus says the department of health was told to no longer do immunization outreach of any kind for children, including outreach in schools.

“Our leadership of the department of health has instructed the department of health to no longer do outreach around immunizations for children of any kind,” said Fiscus. “That’s infant immunizations, HPV immunization in a state that has one of the highest HPV cancer rates in the country. Flu vaccine outreach in schools has been canceled.”

That’s backed up by a situation report from the state health department obtained by NBC affiliate WSMV in Nashville.

It says per Dr. Lisa Piercey, the state health commissioner, health department staff may not hold any immunization event in or on school property or hold any COVID-19 vaccine events at organizations whose clientele are solely children.

The department’s rule change comes after Republican lawmakers strongly criticized its outreach to teens regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

State Senator Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, called the health department’s new rules “dangerous and terrifying.”

“This is an example of politics leading our public health department. That is a problem. That is an abdication of leadership,” said Akbari.

The Shelby County Health Department, which is independently run, says the state’s changes will not impact its vaccination outreach.

“Public health and safety is the Shelby County Health Department’s number one priority,” said Dr. La Sonya Hall, interim health director of the Shelby County Health Department. “Our mission is to promote, protect, and improve the health of all in Shelby County. In keeping with our mission, we will continue to provide a comprehensive vaccination program for Shelby County residents of all ages.”

Shelby County Schools (SCS) says it continues to encourage students, parents, and families to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

SCS released this statement:

“The District encourages COVID-19 vaccinations among eligible students, staff, and families. We’re currently partnering with the City of Memphis, Shelby County government and other stakeholders to share community vaccination resources and locations. COVID-19 vaccinations will not be required for employment or enrollment at Shelby County Schools. "

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