Tennessee fires top vaccine official amid TDH’s efforts to promote COVID vaccinations among teens

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee officials have fired Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the state’s top vaccination official. The now-former Immunization Director for the Tennessee Department of Health had been facing scrutiny from Republican state lawmakers over her department’s outreach efforts to promote COVID-19 vaccinations among teenagers.

Dr. Fiscus told The Tennessean that she was fired Monday to appease lawmakers. She provided the newspaper with a copy of her termination letter, which does not explain the reasoning for her dismissal.

While speaking with News 2’s Gerald Harris, Dr. Fiscus said she was a scapegoat for a legislature bent on vaccine misinformation, “Our elected officials, many of them have really bought into this anti-vaccine propaganda that has been widely distributed, and they are not seeking the opinions of medical experts who understand these vaccines and understand this pandemic.”

Health Department spokesperson Sarah Tanksley said the agency cannot comment on HR or personnel matters.

Governor Bill Lee and several state lawmakers were at the Grand Hyatt on Tuesday morning for the fourth day of the Southern Legislative Conference. News 2’s Harris tried to speak with the governor on the decision as he was leaving, but Lee declined to comment.

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton shared his reaction to Dr. Fiscus’ comments.

“I look at America I don’t think you can blame that on Tennessee it’s been politicized with the world, with the Biden administration,” said Sexton. “I just think that [Dr. Fiscus] is a little upset that she was let go and when you are employed sometimes those decisions are made when you, you’ve, you know, kind of parted ways.”

Representative Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) also commented on the firing of Dr. Fiscus.

“What went into the actual firing decision, obviously I don’t know, I was not part of those conversations,” said Curcio. “But I do know there was a lot of questions within the General Assembly…I’m sure they made the best decision with the information that they had.”

Tennessee Democrats have also reacted to the firing.

“A well-respected member of the public health community was sacrificed in favor of anti-vaccine ideology,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), the chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “This disgraceful hatchet job is going to endanger the lives of unvaccinated Tennesseans at a time when we have a safe and reliable way to protect our families from this virus. A disappointing and poor decision.”

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) called the move “insane” in a tweet Monday afternoon.

As of Monday, state and federal data showed 38% of Tennesseans were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, lagging behind much of the nation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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