In light of the department’s outreach efforts to vaccinate teenagers against COVID-19, Tennessee’s former top vaccination official has taken to social media to express her outrage. She said Tuesday that she could not keep silent after this week’s firing due to scrutiny by Republican lawmakers.
Vaccine Former Leader: Firing Was Political Over Health
Dr. Michelle Fiscus said Tennessee’s elected leaders put politics above the health of children with their firing of her when she was the medical director for disease prevention and immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health.
A letter of termination and a letter of resignation was presented to her Monday by the agency, but no reason for her termination was given.
The Tennessee Department of Health worker penned a scorching 1,200-word response after choosing the termination letter, in which she said she is ashamed of Tennessee’s leaders, scared for Tennessee, and angry at the treatment of employees of the Tennessee Department of Health by an uneducated public and a government that only cares about itself.
The Tennessean has confirmed that documents show that the Tennessee Department of Health has stopped all outreach efforts for children of any kind of vaccine, not just the COVID-19 vaccine. Tennesseans lag behind many of the nation’s peers in terms of their vaccination rates against COVID-19, as only 38% of them are fully protected.
As part of several interviews with different news outlets, Fiscus told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he has become a champion of public health, which he believes has not been fully realized by his interviewers.
The Republican governor’s administration has remained silent so far on Bill Lee’s firing. According to his office and the Health Department, personnel matters prevented them from commenting. Reporters were unable to ask Lee any questions following an event Tuesday.
Sen. Raumesh Akbari condemned the firing as a capitulation to anti-vaccine ideology. One of the few Republicans who spoke out was House Speaker Cameron Sexton, saying through a spokesperson that the decision was made internally by health officials.
Doug Kufner, Speaker Sexton’s spokesperson, said the speaker has not speculated for reasons for how the vaccine marketing strategy was chosen, despite concerns described by members about the recent strategy. But Speaker Sexton believes that the outcome yesterday was fair despite the dissent.
Dr. Richard Briggs, a physician, and Republican Senator says he’s not sure who fired Fiscus but says it would be unjust if it was because she was running a vaccination campaign. Although he said he didn’t want to second-guess the department, he believes it probably needs some clarification based on the way it appears without knowing the details.
Republican legislators invoked Fiscus’ name during a June committee meeting after she explained the “Mature Minor Doctrine” allowing vaccinations on minors as young as 14 without parental consent. I responded to questions from providers in the letter, and I did not include any new information.
Deputy health commissioner Fiscus said the department’s attorney provided the letter. According to her, the attorney said that the letter received the blessing of the Governor. According to her, the doctrine is based on a 1987 ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court, and her job is to explain what the rules are.
Republicans scolded the agency for its communications, including their posts on the internet, about the vaccine. An image of a child wearing a Band-Aid on his arm illustrated that Tennesseans 12+ qualify for vaccination. Give the COVID-19 vaccine a shot.
The Republican member of Congress showed the hearing a printout of a Facebook ad asserting teens are eligible for Medicaid, calling the agency’s advertising “reprehensible” and equating it to peer pressure.
According to the governor, in response to a question last month about the patient access hearing, the state will continue to encourage people to seek access – parents for their children and parents for themselves to choose vaccines for their children.
Two weeks after the hearing, The Tennessean reported citing emails it obtained that Health Department employees were instructed to stop organizing vaccination events geared towards teens and to stop doing online outreach to them.
Last fall, before COVID-19 vaccines were full-fledged, health officials asked for permission to start communicating the risks, benefits, and well-studied nature of the vaccine. A state spokesperson said they were denied, and the governor’s office controlled government communications as of May.
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