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Tennessee's Top Vaccine Official Claims That COVID Conspiracy Theories Led To Her Dismissal.
Coronavirus

Tennessee's Top Vaccine Official Claims That COVID Conspiracy Theories Led To Her Dismissal.


On Tuesday, the former state of Tennessee official in charge of vaccinations claimed her firing was politically motivated and based on anti-vaccination conspiracy theories promoted by conservative legislators in her state.

Michelle Fiscus, former medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health, said in a CNN interview Tuesday morning that her state is controlled by lawmakers who “choose to buy into anti-vaccine rhetoric and conspiracy theory rather than listening to actual science.”

“I was given the option of resigning or being terminated, and I chose to be terminated because I had done nothing wrong other than inform our physicians about where the guidelines for vaccinating minors were,” she added.

Fiscus was fired from her state position on Monday without an official explanation, according to the Tennessean. In a statement to the outlet following her firing, Fiscus stated that she was "afraid" for her state and that her firing was related to her recent decision to inform health providers about Tennessee's "mature minor" doctrine, which allows medical professionals to treat some minors over the age of 14 without parental consent.

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee who oppose mass vaccination efforts specifically targeted Fiscus during a hearing in mid-June for her memo about vaccinating minors against COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Fiscus claimed that leaders at the Tennessee Department of Health are caving in to political pressure and sabotaging all vaccination efforts, not just those aimed at getting children the coronavirus vaccine.

“In order to appease the legislators who were upset about this memo, our leadership at the department of health has instructed the department of health to no longer do outreach around immunizations for children of any kind,” Fiscus said, adding that the state is also effectively prohibiting messaging about infant vaccinations and HPV vaccines.

“Our leadership has been toxic to work under, and morale within the department is low; there are state workers all over the state who are afraid for their jobs because they want to do the right thing, and the administration is far more interested in politics.”

In Tennessee, the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs works in the department of health at the governor's request. Fiscus said her position allowed her to be fired without cause, but firing her to reduce youth vaccinations is a troubling sign for Tennessee public health.

“In general, our state is not among the most progressive in terms of listening to scientists,” Fiscus stated.

“My job is to protect, promote, and improve Tennesseeans’ health and prosperity, which includes getting them vaccinated against COVID-19 and educating them on the science behind those vaccines.”

Tennessee's vaccination rate lags far behind that of the majority of other states, alarming health officials who fear Tennessee is fueling the spread of the highly infectious delta variant. Only about half of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to 38% of Tennesseans.

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