Tennessee halts all vaccination efforts aimed at youth

Amid pressure from state lawmakers, the Tennessee Department of Health is halting all youth vaccine outreach, according to an internal report and agency emails obtained by the Tennessean.

The move encompasses not just COVID-19 vaccination efforts, but all diseases. If the health department issues vaccine information, staff have been told to remove the agency logo. The department is also ending COVID-19 vaccine events held on school property. The decisions come directly from Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, reports the Tennessean.

The health department will also ensure teenagers don't receive second COVID-19 vaccine dose reminders. Postcards will still be sent to adults, but teens will be left off the mailing list so the cards are not "potentially interpreted as solicitation to minors," according to the report cited by the Tennessean.

The health department is responding to "an intense national conversation that is affecting how many families evaluate vaccinations in general" and will conduct more research into vaccine hesitancy, spokesperson Sarah Tanksley said in a written statement to the Tennessean.

"Tennessee is on solid footing when it comes to childhood immunizations and will continue to keep information and programming in place for parents," Ms. Tanksley said. "We are simply mindful of how certain tactics could hurt that progress."

During a mid-June legislative hearing, several lawmakers criticized Dr. Piercey for efforts to vaccinate teenagers, accusing the agency of attempting to circumvent parents, then discussed dissolving the entire health department to stop the vaccine campaign. Department leaders are set to reappear before lawmakers July 21.

Meanwhile, Michelle Fiscus, MD, director of immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health, claims she was fired July 12 in retaliation for encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations among teenagers. Health department spokesperson Bill Christian told Becker's that the agency cannot comment on human resources or personnel matters. 

New daily COVID-19 cases in Tennessee have risen 429 percent over the last two weeks, according to The New York Times. Tennessee ranks 44th among states for residents fully vaccinated, with 38.09 percent of people fully inoculated against COVID-19 as of July 13.


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