Under pressure from Republicans, Tennessee fires top vaccine official and suspends vaccine outreach to minors — and not just for COVID shots

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Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

The Tennessee Department of Health will halt all adolescent vaccine outreach – not just for coronavirus, but all diseases – amid pressure from Republican state lawmakers, according to an internal report and agency emails obtained by the Tennessean. If the health department must issue any information about vaccines, staff are instructed to strip the agency logo off the documents.

The health department will also stop all COVID-19 vaccine events on school property, despite holding at least one such event this month. The decisions to end vaccine outreach and school events come directly from Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, the internal report states.

Additionally, the health department will take steps to ensure it no longer sends postcards or other notices reminding teenagers to get their second dose of the coronavirus vaccines. 

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Decisions to ratchet back outreach comes amid pressure from conservative lawmakers, who have embraced misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine, said Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s former top vaccine official.

Fiscus was fired without explanation on [July 12]. Fiscus said she was scapegoated to appease lawmakers, who had described routine vaccine outreach as “reprehensible.”

“This is a failure of public health to protect the people of Tennessee and that is what is ‘reprehensible,’ Fiscus said.

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