Tennessee has fired its top vaccination official, who claims she was scapegoated to placate Republican state lawmakers upset by efforts to vaccinate teenagers. Dr. Michelle Fiscus served as director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health before her termination Monday. Though her termination letter offers no reason, Fiscus says she was essentially fired for doing her job: making vaccines available to every person, per the Nashville Tennessean. After facing questions from medical providers, Fiscus issued a May 10 memo explaining the state's Mature Minor Doctrine, a legal mechanism established in 1987 that allows minors over 14 to be vaccinated without parental consent. The information, which Fiscus said was provided to her by the health department's attorney, has been publicly available since at least 2008.
But at a June 16 hearing of the Joint Government Operations Committee—where Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey noted the doctrine had been invoked only eight times in 2021, three times involving her own children—Republican state lawmakers including Sens. Janice Bowling and Mark Pody argued Fiscus was overstepping state authority. Lawmakers even suggested dissolving the entire department. Fiscus said the department responded to this "anti-vaccine misinformation" by "halting ALL vaccination outreach for children," then fired her, leaving her "afraid for my state." With the Delta variant spreading, "the people of Tennessee are going to pay a price," she tells CNN. The state reported 561 new infections Thursday, per the Washington Post, up from 169 on June 23. Just 38% of Tennesseans had been fully vaccinated by Monday. With current trends, that figure isn't expected to reach 50% until March. (Read more Tennessee stories.)