Tennessee’s governor is backing the termination of a top health official after she noted that state doctrine allows children to get vaccines without parental consent.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said that he sets a vision for each department and that the state Department of Health acted in line with his vision when it fired Dr. Michelle Fiscus earlier this month.
“I’ll be very clear: we should in no way be messaging to children. And I’m glad that Department of Health took that direction and it is my vision and my desire that we do not do messaging and marketing outreach to children,” Lee, a Republican, told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.
It was the first time Lee has spoken about the firing in public.
Fiscus was ousted after noting that state doctrine, stemming from a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling, lets children 14 and older get a vaccine without consent from a parent. Only four other states have similar policies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
A memo Fiscus wrote detailing the law triggered pushback from Republicans, who also took issue with messaging from the department that was aimed at children.
Fiscus later released a lengthy statement saying she would not “sit quietly by while our public health infrastructure is eroded in the midst of a pandemic.”
During an appearance on CNN earlier this month, she described department leadership as “toxic to work under.”
Fiscus said the health department halted vaccination outreach for all children, including teenagers. Health officials and Lee have since confirmed that is the case.
In a statement last week, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said that the agency was evaluating “annual marketing efforts intended for parents.”
Lee told reporters that the planned marketing shift is the right thing to do, saying parents are “the only appropriate decider of health decisions for children.”
“It’s inappropriate for government to pursue a vaccine that has been approved on an emergency basis for children without consulting their parents. That’s a mistake and to the degree that that was inadvertently happening in any way, we should have stopped it, and we did, and that was the right decision,” he added later.
Lee said he was not told why Fiscus was fired.
He encouraged people to get vaccinated but stressed that the decision on whether or not to get a shot is a personal choice.
Fiscus criticized Lee’s comments. She said in a statement that she was “dismayed by the continued complacency of the administration during this pandemic.”
“I was terminated for trying to protect Tennesseans from dying from a vaccine-preventable disease. Gov. Lee should be sending a strong message that Tennesseans need to get protected, just like he is, with a safe and effective vaccine,” she added.
Tennessee, like most U.S. states, has seen an increase in hospitalizations from COVID-19 in recent days. As of the latest available figures, 545 patients are receiving hospital care for the disease.
As of July 22, 5.5 million Tennessee residents have been fully vaccinated against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, amounting to nearly 39 percent of state residents. That includes over 67,000 youth aged 12 to 15 years.