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Tennessee Reportedly Halts Outreach Efforts For All Childhood Vaccines

A directive from the Tennessee Department of Health has reportedly put a halt to all child and teen vaccine outreach, including those promoting COVID-19 vaccines.

With just 38% of the state fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, Tennessee is reportedly rolling back vaccine outreach aimed specifically at children and teens. According to internal Tennessee Department of Health documents obtained by The Tennessean, state health officials have halted not just COVID vaccine outreach, but all adolescent vaccine outreach efforts amid increasing pressure from Republican state lawmakers.

According to The Tennessean, an email sent Monday by the state’s chief medical officer instructed health department staffers that they should conduct “no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines” and “no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine.” Instead, the email stated that any information regarding vaccines or boosters required for school admission would need to come from the state’s Department of Education, the newspaper reported.

Health department staff were also told to remove the agency’s logo from any vaccine-related informational sheets or other materials it makes available for distribution and were directed not to conduct “pre-planning” for flu shot distribution events traditionally hosted at schools, The Tennessean reported.

News of the Tennessee Health Department’s move to halt adolescent vaccine outreach come days after the state’s top vaccine official was fired following pushback from the state’s Republican lawmakers over what she has said was routine vaccine outreach. Dr. Michelle Fiscus told CNN debate over COVID-19 vaccines for children erupted in May after she shared information about a Tennessee law that allows minors age 14 and older to access healthcare services, including vaccinations, without a parent’s consent.

In an op-ed for The Tennessean, Fiscus said Republican legislators accused her of undermining parental authority with one member of the Government Operations Committee going so far as to call for the state’s Health Department to be dissolved. Within two months of sharing information about Tennessee’s Mature Minor Doctrine, she was fired.

Before her firing, Fiscus said she was informed state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey had halted outreach pertaining to August being National Immunization Awareness Month as well as outreach on infant immunizations and school flu vaccinations.

“The leadership of the Tennessee Department of Health has reacted to the sabre rattling from the Government Operations Committee by halting ALL vaccination outreach for children,” Fiscus wrote for The Tennessean. “Not just COVID-19 vaccine outreach for teens, but ALL communications around vaccines of any kind... THIS is a failure of public health to protect the people of Tennessee and THAT is what is ‘reprehensible.’”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also expressed concern over news that Tennessee halted vaccine outreach for children, noting it could lead to an increase in outbreaks of preventable diseases. “We are also concerned by reports that Tennessee has stopped all communications about any routine childhood vaccines, including those for measles and other vaccine-preventable illnesses, at a time when children and adolescents overall still lag behind on these important vaccines due to the pandemic,” the organization said in a statement. “Actions like this only increase the likelihood that we’ll see other outbreaks of these diseases even as we continue to fight COVID-19.”