Anti-Vaxxers Just Screwed Over All the Kids in Tennessee

The Tennessee GOP has declared war on vaccine outreach, and not just for COVID-19 vaccines.

Jul 14 2021, 2:43pm

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The Tennessee GOP has declared war on vaccine outreach, and they’re not stopping with COVID-19 vaccines.

The state’s public health agency is ending all vaccine outreach to children, according to internal documents and emails obtained by the Tennessean onTuesday. In addition to no longer reminding kids and their parents about obtaining their second COVID-19 shot, and ending all COVID-19 vaccine events on school property, the Tennessee Department of Health’s employees were told that they couldn’t distribute vaccine information using the agency’s logo, the Tennessean reported. 

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The directive comes as COVID-19 cases have more than doubled in Tennessee in the past few weeks, driven by the proliferation of Delta variant throughout the U.S. and the state’s low vaccination rate (just 38 percent fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times.) 

The COVID-19 vaccine has been authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration as opposed to full authorization, something critics have highlighted even though the FDA determined the vaccine was safe and effective. But the other vaccines the state is targeting have had full authorization for years, and include vaccines against viral diseases such as measles, mumps, and meningitis, and even the human papillomavirus vaccines, which protects against cervical cancer. 

The guidance was distributed last Friday and reiterated in a Monday email from the agency’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tim Jones, who directed staff to make “no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines” and “no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine,” the Tennessean reported. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 14,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year and nearly 4,300 people will die. 

Health department spokesperson Sarah Tanksley told the Tennessean that past outreach by the health department was one reason why the state’s childhood immunization rates have been high—nearly 95 percent for kindergartners in the last school year, the paper reported—but said the state was reacting to “an intense national conversation that is affecting how many families evaluate vaccinations in general.”

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The shift away from vaccine outreach appears to be driven entirely by politics. Last month Tennessee lawmakers threatened to abolish the state Department of Health entirely, in a confrontational hearing with the department’s top official, Dr. Lisa Piercey. The uproar came after the health department’s top immunizations official distributed a memo to providers saying that children between the ages of 14 and 17 had a legal right to seek medical care without parental consent, including vaccination. 

“It looks like there is a mission here, an agenda here to have children vaccinated with or without parental consent,” Republican state Sen. Kerry Roberts said at the June hearing. 

Fiscus, who was fired on Monday, said in a lengthy statement Tuesday that she was scapegoated for the memo, which was based on a longstanding Tennessee state Supreme Court decision and which she said was approved by the health department’s lawyers as well as the governor’s office. 

In the statement, Fiscus said it was “reprehensible” for the state’s leaders to downplay COVID-19.

“I am ashamed of them. I am afraid for my state,” Fiscus said. “I am angry for the amazing people of the Tennessee Department of Health who have been mistreated by an uneducated public and leaders who have only their own interests in mind. And I am deeply saddened for the people of Tennessee, who will continue to become sick and die from this vaccine-preventable disease because they choose to listen to the nonsense spread by ignorant people.”

Tagged:

Tennessee, covid vaccine

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