Policy announced as top health official is ousted for speaking out
The Tennessee Department of Health is stopping all vaccine outreach to minors, not just for Covid-19, but for all diseases.
According to The Tennessean, the health department will put a halt to all vaccine events on school properties, and will no longer send reminders to teens about their second Covid-19 vaccine doses. If it must issue information about vaccines, the agency logo will be removed from relevant documents.
The decision to change Tennessee’s vaccination strategy comes directly from Health Commissioner Dr Lisa Piercey, said an internal Covid-19 report instructing health department staff on the new policy last Friday.
Postcards with second-dose reminders will still be sent to adults, according to the internal report, but teens will be removed from the mailing list in case they are “potentially interpreted as solicitation to minors”.
The announcement has come in the midst of a bitter row over the firing of a top Tennessee health official. Dr Michelle Fiscus, a top vaccine official, says she was ousted to appease Republican state lawmakers who want to roll back efforts to vaccinate young people against the virus.
Dr Fiscus addressed the restrictions of communications about vaccines in a wider statement about her dismissal, published by The Tennessean.
“The leadership of the Tennessee Department of Health has reacted to the sabre rattling from the Government Operations Committee by halting ALL vaccination outreach for children. Not just COVID-19 vaccine outreach for teens, but ALL communications around vaccines of any kind,” read the statement.
It continued: “No back-to-school messaging to the more than 30,000 parents who did not get their children measles vaccines last year due to the pandemic. No messaging around human papilloma virus vaccine to the residents of the state with one of the highest HPV cancer rates in the country…THIS is a failure of public health to protect the people of Tennessee and THAT is what is “reprehensible”. When the people elected and appointed to lead this state put their political gains ahead of the public good, they have betrayed the people who have trusted them with their lives.”
Concerns about the escalating spread of Covid-19 across the state have been raised, as the average number of new cases per day has risen sharply in the last fortnight – from 177 to 418, while average test positivity rate has jumped from 2.2 per cent to 5.4 per cent over the same period.