Discussion to dissolve Tennessee Department of Health delayed

A protester on the Legislative Plaza supports Dr. Michelle Fiscus prior to a meeting of the...
A protester on the Legislative Plaza supports Dr. Michelle Fiscus prior to a meeting of the Joint Government Operations Committee.(WSMV)
Updated: Jul. 21, 2021 at 4:42 AM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A joint statement by two members of the Joint Government Operations Committee involving the Tennessee Department of Health was read at the start of Wednesday’s committee meeting.

The letter — read by Sen. Kerry Roberts and Rep. John Ragan — touched on their main concerns with the TDH administering the COVID-19 vaccine to children without parental consent and marketing the vaccine to minors.

While reading the statement, Roberts said Dr. Lisa Piercey of the Tennessee Department of Health had a scheduling conflict and asked to reschedule when she could attend the committee meeting.

Before they agreed to it, they asked to meet with her privately.

Roberts went on to say during that private meeting with Piercey, the governor’s office confirmed that it is not the policy of TDH, the TDE, or Tennessee’s 89 health departments to administer the COVID-19 vaccines to children without parental consent.

Roberts said Piercey detailed the steps that will be taken to stop any vaccine marketing directed at minors.

“Interpreting these two concerns as being anti-vaxxers is intellectually dishonest. It’s lazy and it’s wrong. We have not discouraged Tennesseans from getting vaccinated nor have we discouraged Tennesseans from vaccinating their children,” Roberts said.

Rep. Vincent Dixie talked to the media after Democratic legislators weren’t allowed to respond to the letter during Wednesday’s committee meeting. He called on Governor Bill Lee to provide more leadership on COVID-19.

“The same tactics that senator Roberts said about bullying they used to against Dr. Piercey against Piercey and Fiscus and that is the biggest hypocrisy that we just witnessed,” Dixie said. “We’re playing with peoples lives right now and this is real. This is not a political game.”

During the committee’s June 16 meeting, Republican legislators suggested dissolving the Tennessee Department of Health, citing that the department was targeting vaccines at children.

Since that meeting, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s leading vaccine official, has been fired and the Department of Health has scaled back vaccine outreach.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Tennessee physicians and residents called for Tennesseans to get vaccinated and voiced their support for Dr. Fiscus.

“Please, Tennessee, get vaccinated. I need your help. Physicians of Tennessee need your help,” Dr. Katrina Green, an emergency physician told the panel. “We nearly broke our health care system this past winter. It could happen again if this Delta variant continues to spread.”

Tennessee physicians with the group Protect My Care told News4 they also attended Wednesday’s meeting to call for an investigation into Dr. Fiscus’s firing.

“Ultimately we would like to see her fully reinstated in her position, but I am not very hopeful that that would happen,” said Dr. Green. “She’s done a wonderful job throughout the pandemic in trying to keep Tennesseans safe, and so [we’re] just showing up to support her and let her know she is not alone.”

News4 reached out to both chairmen of the joint committee.

“At this point, no state related entity should be administering the COVID19 vaccine, which the FDA considered an unapproved product under emergency use authorization, without parental consent or marketing to minors. That is our desire and that is our intent,” Senator Kerry Roberts said.

Representative John Ragan said he wouldn’t comment on the announcement before it was made.

The Tennessee Department of Health declined to issue a statement on the matter.

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