Documents show TN health officials instructed not to hold immunization events for children at schools

Dr. Michelle Fiscus
Dr. Michelle Fiscus(WSMV)
Updated: Jul. 13, 2021 at 8:53 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - New emails are shedding light on the state health department when it comes to promoting vaccines for children.

This comes as the state’s top vaccine official is now out of a job.

“I was given the opportunity to resign and I elected not to because I’ve done my job,” Dr. Michelle Fiscus, who was fired from the state health department on Tuesday, said.

Tennessee’s former top vaccine official, Dr. Fiscus, spoke to News4 after she was fired.

She claims it happened after she gave some information that medical providers wanted. That info came from the state’s “mature minor” doctrine, which says kids 14 and older can get medical care without parental consent.

“I was provided that language, told that language was provided by the governor’s office, sorry, blessed by the governor’s office, and told I could share it however I needed to share it,” Dr. Fiscus said.

After sharing that info, it caught the attention of some state lawmakers and they weren’t happy about it.

“As a result of this, the leadership of the department of health has paused not only providing opportunities for adolescents to receive COVID-19 vaccines but has directed that any vaccination event outside of TDH property be canceled for children,” Dr. Fiscus said.

A situation report from the state health department talks about community health services.

The report states that, “per Dr. Piercy we may not hold any immunization events in or on school property. We also may not hold COVID-19 vaccine events at organizations whose clientele are solely children/adolescents.”

Local health departments separate from the state like the Metro Public Health Department are not following suit.

“For us, we’re going to continue and as a matter of fact, there are initiatives underway already to encourage children to get vaccinated,” Brian Todd with Metro Health said.

Todd said outreach is critical ahead of the school year.

“What we do in addition to what pediatricians across the county do to make sure children are vaccinated. That’s something that we offer. It’s really a public health priority,” Todd said.

More emails obtained by News4 talk about vaccine-related communications.

News4 obtained emails about vaccine-related communications from the Tennessee Department of...
News4 obtained emails about vaccine-related communications from the Tennessee Department of Health.(WSMV)

Dr. Fiscus wrote, “We have held all COVID-19 remind/recall postcards and texts that would go to under 18yo effective today.”

That was on June 25th. Later that day, she got a response saying “Ok, good. Hold all program communications about immunizations until further notice.”

“They can choose what they want to do what they want to do until that comes to wiping their boots on the people of the state of Tennessee and that’s when I get in a chair like this and I speak up,” Dr. Fiscus said.

Last Wednesday, Dr. Fiscus wrote “August is National Immunization Awareness Month and we would typically do a news release, a Governor’s proclamation (in the before times), and communications out to LHDs and partners. Please let me know if we’ll be permitted to acknowledge the occasion.”

A response the next day said, “Per the Commissioner, no outreach at all.”

News4 obtained vaccine-related communications emails from the Tennessee Department of Health.
News4 obtained vaccine-related communications emails from the Tennessee Department of Health.(WSMV)

“What I’m concerned about is that people have the audacity to try and stop people from vaccinating their children,” Dr. Fiscus said.

The state health department issued a statement to News4 on Tuesday:

TDH understands the importance of childhood immunizations, the impacts to overall health for Tennesseans, and we continue to support those outreach efforts. Providing information and access are routine public health functions, and that has not changed. Tennessee has a long and proven history of being one of the top programs in the nation when it comes to childhood immunization rates. Below are some highlights of our success in this area which are due in large part to the outreach efforts from TDH across the state.

• Tennessee ranked among the top 10 states for MMR vaccination coverage among kindergartners during the 2019-2020 school year

• 95.3 percent of 2020-2021 kindergarten students in TN were fully immunized

• For more than a decade Tennessee has above 90 percent coverage of kindergarten students receiving childhood immunizations including DTaP, MMR, Polio, Chicken Pox, Hepatitis B.

TDH wants to remain a trustworthy source of information to help individuals, including parents, make these decisions. And being that trustworthy messenger means we are mindful of hesitancy and the intense national conversation that is affecting how many families evaluate vaccinations in general. We have in no way shuttered the immunizations for children program. We are simply mindful of how certain tactics could hurt that progress.

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