Tennessee health officials are resuming outreach regarding childhood vaccinations after a pause to review its marketing materials.
Officials had paused the outreach in recent weeks due to concern that the messages on social media and on flyers and other materials were targeting children instead of their parents.
A top Tennessee Department of Health official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, was fired for posting some of the COVID-19 messages, and raised the alarm regarding the pause.
After a review of how outreach is being conducted, the department is resuming outreach on childhood vaccinations, Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey told reporters in a virtual briefing on July 23.
“We put a pause on many things, and then we have resumed all of those,” she said.
One change is no longer posting on social media images promoting vaccinations that only feature a child.
The agency deleted 11 such images that had been posted.
“You will see us do advertising and marketing in the future that contain children because we still think it’s very important. But going forward, they will have references to parents, maybe pictures of families and parents,” Piercey said. “That’s the only thing that we have stopped permanently, is that single focus” on a child.
Republican lawmakers grew upset with the outreach when Fiscus released a memo detailing doctrine that enables children as young as 14 to get a vaccine without parental consent.
The doctrine stems from a Tennessee Supreme Court decision.
Lawmakers met with Piercey and an aide with Gov. Bill Lee, also a Republican, about shifting the outreach, state Sen. Kerry Roberts told a committee hearing this week.
“To be clear, the Tennessee Department of Health was not asked to stop vaccinating children, nor have they stopped vaccinating children for COVID-19 or any other disease,” Roberts said. “Rather, they were asked to stop vaccinating children for COVID-19 without parental consent, and to stop marketing to minors.”
Health officials also emphasized that they never stopped immunizations, even as they paused messaging on vaccines.
Minors will only get a vaccine without parental consent in “fringe and nuanced cases,” Piercey said Friday.
“We do recognize there are some very unique situations where there are older teenagers that might be in social situations that don’t allow them to have parents come in with them, for one reason or the other. So we will be able to continue servicing them under the Mature Minor Doctrine,” she added.
The update came a day after Lee said he backed the firing of Fiscus, who has vocally denounced state leadership in the wake of her termination.
Lee encouraged people to get a vaccine but said he believes getting a shot is a personal decision.
Vaccines are “the tool that will most effectively allow us to manage this virus,” he said.