NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Department of Health is reporting more than 1,300 new COVID-19 cases since Wednesday.

Governor Bill Lee was finally made available to answer why the state fired one of its top medical experts during a pandemic.

“There’s been a lot of talk about children’s vaccine program. The Department of Health made a decision, and I support that decision,” Lee said.

The governor says the anger from lawmakers regarding advertisements his office approved that notified the public of vaccine eligibility for those 12 and older is the correct feeling.

“To make certain that we, to suspend for a period and make certain that we did not market vaccinations to children. So the suspension was of the marketing to children for COVID-19 vaccination. The vaccination program itself and the distribution of vaccinations continues,” Lee said.

Lee is making his first public appearance to address the controversy, while also making a rare push to encourage vaccinations.

“I think we want to continue to encourage Tennesseans to get vaccinated. It’s the best tool that we have to manage the COVID situation, the health situation we have,” Lee said.

Lee, who has previously said the Delta variant isn’t a concern, is now facing a different reality with soaring COVID cases and hospitalizations.

“Right now, we have about 3% of our hospital beds are occupied by covid19 patients. So a very small majority of those that are in Tennessee hospitals are associated with COVID, but so long as there is anyone in the hospital we want to continue to monitor and track it,” Lee said.

The governor, who approves of halting vaccine outreach to children, despite leading a state with just 39% of the people vaccinated heading into the school year, is taking responsibility for vaccine messaging.

“I’m happy to take responsibility for the messaging. I didn’t make the specific decisions about that, I didn’t make personnel decisions in that department, that’s not what a governor does,” he said.

Lee also said he has not discussed the removal of Dr. Fiscus from her role with Dr. Lisa Piercey.

Fiscus released a statement Thursday afternoon:

“I am dismayed by the continued complacency of the administration during this pandemic. Our border states of Missouri and Arkansas are suffering greatly, and we have already seen the start of the next surge in Tennessee. While Arkansas Governor Hutchinson is setting vaccination goals, asking employers to encourage vaccination in the workplace, and talking about individual responsibility, Governor Lee’s continued mantra is that of “personal choice”. Yes, the COVID-19 vaccine is the best tool we have, but like any good tool, it’s only effective when used.”

“I was terminated for trying to protect Tennesseans from dying from a vaccine-preventable disease. Governor Lee should be sending a strong message that Tennesseans need to get protected, just like he is, with a safe and effective vaccine.”