Tennessee’s Department of Health will cease all vaccine outreach to minors, not only for COVID-19, “amid pressure from Republican state lawmakers, according to an internal report and agency emails obtained by the Tennessean.”
The Tennessean reports that in the event the agency “must issue any information about vaccines, staff are instructed to strip the agency logo off the documents.”
The health department will also stop all COVID-19 vaccine events on school property, despite holding at least one such event this month. The decisions to end vaccine outreach and school events come directly from Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, the internal report states.
Additionally, the health department will take steps to ensure it no longer sends postcards or other notices reminding teenagers to get their second dose of the coronavirus vaccines. Postcards will still be sent to adults, but teens will be excluded from the mailing list so the postcards are not “potentially interpreted as solicitation to minors,” the report states.
After the health department’s internal COVID-19 report was circulated on Friday, the rollback of vaccine outreach was further detailed in a Monday email from agency Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones.
Jones told staff they should conduct “no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines” and “no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine.”
Staff were also told not to do any “pre-planning” for flu shots events at schools. Any information released about back-to-school vaccinations should come from the Tennessee Department of Education, not the Tennessee Department of Health, Jones wrote.
The Tennessean reported that typically, “the health department regularly advocates for vaccinating kids against many diseases without controversy,” noting that “in 2019 the department published at least 15 tweets that either explicitly recommended minors be vaccinated or featured a child in a pro-vaccine image or video.”
Decisions to ratchet back outreach comes amid pressure from conservative lawmakers, who have embraced misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine, said Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s former top vaccine official.
Fiscus was fired without explanation on Monday. Fiscus said she was scapegoated to appease lawmakers, who had described routine vaccine outreach as “reprehensible.”
These changes will take effect as the state sees new signs of COVID spread, according to the report.
“After months of declining infections, the average number of new cases per day has more than doubled in the past two weeks – from 177 to 418,” the newspaper wrote. “The average test positivity rate has jumped from 2.2% to 5.4% in the same time period.”
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