Tennessee’s top vaccination official said she was fired after she highlighted that minors could get vaccinated against COVID-19 even if they did not have parental consent.
Dr. Michelle Fiscus was fired Monday from her position as the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs at the state’s Department of Health, according to NBC News. The Tennessee Department of Health has not publicly commented on the firing, but Fiscus is blaming tension with GOP lawmakers over vaccine outreach to teenagers.
Fiscus, a pediatrician, published a memo covering Tennessee’s “Mature Minor Doctrine,” which states that residents of the state between the ages of 14 and 18 can be treated by a doctor “without parental consent unless the physician believes that the minor is not sufficiently mature to make his or her own health care decisions.” (RELATED: Dr. Fauci Tells People Hesitant About The Vaccine To ‘Just Get Over It’)
“Within days, legislators were contacting TDH asking questions about the memo with some interpreting it as an attempt to undermine parental authority,” Fiscus said in a statement to the Tennessean. “I was told that I should have been more ‘politically aware’ and that I ‘poked the bear’ when I sent a memo to medical providers clarifying a 34-year-old Tennessee Supreme Court ruling. I am not a political operative, I am a physician who was, until today, charged with protecting the people of Tennessee, including its children, against preventable diseases like Covid-19.”
Fiscus said one state GOP lawmaker called her actions “reprehensible.” Tennessee currently has a vaccination rate of 38.1%, ranking 49th out of 59 U.S. states and territories and trailing the national rate by ten percent. Pfizer’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA on May 10.
Well folks, this is just insane. https://t.co/f0r0nTWPek
— Jeff Yarbro (@yarbro) July 12, 2021
Democrats in the state condemned the firing of Fiscus, with state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro calling it “insane.”
The state took things one step further Tuesday and halted vaccine outreach for all illnesses, not just COVID-19, to minors, according to documents obtained by the Tennessean. Staffers at the state health department have reportedly been told to strip the agency logo off of any documents they must distribute related to vaccine information to adolescents.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Pearcy reportedly gave an order to cease all school vaccination events. Teenagers who get an initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will also no longer receive notices reminding them to get a second dose. (RELATED: ‘I Have The Right To Protect My Kids’: Geraldo Rivera Wants To Keep Unvaccinated Out Of Stores, Schools, Even Jobs)
In a Monday email from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones, agency staff were reportedly told to conduct “no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines” and “no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine.” They were also told to do no preparation for flu shot events at schools and that back-to-school vaccination information should come from the Department of Education, not the Department of Health.
TDH spokesperson Sarah Tanksley said the department is responding to “an intense national conversation that is affecting how many families evaluate vaccinations in general.”
At a June legislative meeting, some Republican lawmakers discussed potentially dissolving the TDH entirely in response to its attempts to advertise vaccines to minors.