Update: Officials later acknowledged they paused outreach on childhood vaccinations, though the pause does not affect the health department’s childhood immunization program or access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Original story below.
Health officials in Tennessee said on July 14 that they haven’t shut down a program that provides information about vaccinations to children.
“There has been a lot of misinformation circulating regarding Tennessee’s vaccination efforts. To be clear, our vaccination efforts have not been halted,” Bill Christian, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH), told The Epoch Times via email.
The department says it hasn’t shuttered the immunization program for children.
“Tennessee has a long history of being one of the top programs in the nation when it comes to childhood immunization rates. In fact, for more than a decade, Tennessee has above 90 percent coverage of kindergarten students receiving childhood immunizations. We are simply taking this time to focus on our messaging and ensure our outreach is focused on parents who are making these decisions for themselves and their families,” Christian said.
Dr. Michelle Fiscus, who was the state’s director of vaccine-preventable disease and immunization, was fired earlier this week.
In a statement released online after the firing, Fiscus said she asked the department’s lawyers whether she could note to the public that, according to case law, minors between the ages of 14 and 17 could be vaccinated without parental consent. After being told she could promote the case law, she did so on social media, but quickly received pushback from state legislators.
“What has occurred in the time between the release of this memo and today, when I was terminated from my position as medical director of the vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization program at the Tennessee Department of Health, can only be described as bizarre,” Fiscus wrote, claiming that leadership in the department has halted “ALL vaccination outreach for children.”
“I am deeply saddened for the people of Tennessee, who will continue to become sick and die from this vaccine-preventable disease because they choose to listen to the nonsense spread by ignorant people. At this point, you are going to get vaccinated or you are going to get sick.”
Studies show that people who have gotten COVID-19 and recovered enjoy some immunity from the virus, something that Fiscus and a number of officials often neglect to mention.
According to the Tennessean, the state health department has halted all COVID-19 vaccine events on school property and plans to stop sending vaccine reminders to teenagers. The paper cited an internal report it had obtained.
Such notices could be “potentially interpreted as a solicitation to minors,” the report stated.
State Rep. Scott Cepicky, a Republican, claimed at a hearing last month that the department was utilizing “peer pressure” to get more kids to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“When you have advertisements like this with a young girl with a patch on her arm all smiling, we know how impressionable our young people are and wanting to fit in in life,” Cepicky said while holding up the ad, WATN-TV reported.
Dr. Lisa Piercey, head of the department, responded that getting a vaccine is a personal choice.
“Under no circumstance is the department encouraging children to seek out vaccination without parental consent,” Piercey said, noting that only eight children older than 14 in the state had received a shot without a parent or guardian present, including three of Piercey’s children.