Tennessee pulls back vaccine outreach to children after GOP pressure, report says

The Tennessee Department of Health is pulling back its vaccine outreach to children for all diseases, amid pressure from Republican lawmakers who say the state has gone too far in its efforts to raise awareness about COVID-19 shots among young people, the Tennessean reported Tuesday.

According to the report, the state will no longer send notices reminding teenagers to get their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine or hold vaccine events on school property.

In a statement, the health department insisted it will continue its vaccine outreach efforts for children, but added: “Being that trustworthy messenger means we are mindful of hesitancy and the intense national conversation that is affecting how many families evaluate vaccinations in general.

“We are simply mindful of how certain tactics could hurt that progress,” the statement read.

The reported changes to Tennessee’s vaccination strategy come after the state’s top immunization leader, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, said she was fired after GOP pushback over her outreach efforts, which included tweets and Facebook posts promoting coronavirus vaccines to young people 12 years and older.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus (AP Photo)
Dr. Michelle Fiscus. (AP Photo)

Those posts drew scorn from Republican lawmakers, some of whom proposed dissolving the health department altogether to stop it from "peer pressuring" teenagers to get vaccinated.

“It’s just a huge symptom of just how toxic the whole political landscape has become,” Fiscus told the New York Times. “This virus is apolitical — it doesn’t care who you are or where you live or which president you preferred.”

The changes come amid a spike in coronavirus cases in numerous states, including Tennessee. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, the average number of new cases per day has more than doubled in the past two weeks, from 177 to 418, while the average test positivity rate has jumped from 2.2 percent to 5.4 percent. Confirmed cases of the Delta variant have more than quadrupled in the Volunteer State.

Just 38 percent of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated, according to the state health department — 10 points below the national average.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is stepping up its vaccine outreach to young adults.

On Wednesday, the teen pop star Olivia Rodrigo visited President Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci at the White House to film videos emphasizing why it's important for young people to be vaccinated.


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