Coronavirus US

Why is Tennessee halting vaccines for adolescents?

The move in the Republican controlled state affects all vaccines for minors, not just those for covid-19.

Why is Tennessee halting vaccines for adolescents?
Frederic J. Brown AFP

The Nashville Tennessean first broke the news on Tuesday, the day after Tennessee's top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, was fired from her post.

This approach to vaccinations not only makes the recovery from covid-19 more difficult, but threatens vaccine take up for all infectious diseases in the future.

What reasons have been given for stopping all vaccines?

Republican lawmakers accused the health agency of attempting to pressure minors to be vaccinated.

In a June hearing lawmakers chastised the state's health department.

“The Department of Health is targeting our youth,” Republican Rep. Scott Cepicky said during the hearing. “When you have advertisements with a young girl with a patch on her arm all smiling, we know how impressionable our young people are.”

In a surprising move they then discussed dissolving the entire health department to stop its vaccine advertisements. Department leaders are scheduled to reappear before the lawmakers for more questioning on July 21.

Despite what top Republicans have claimed, there is a wealth of vaccine skepticism present in the GOP. This action in Tennessee could be a precursor to similar moves in other Republican controlled states at a time where the Delta variant is spreading across the country.

What actions have been taken to prevent adolescents from getting access to vaccines?

  • If the health department 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,
  • 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.

What has the reaction been?

The President of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (TNAAP) Dr. Anna Morad stated on Tuesday that, "Actions that weaken Tennessee’s overall public health readiness are clearly a step in the wrong direction at the wrong time."

And Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the former head of the Tennessean vaccination program, said many people and lawmakers were buying “into anti-vaccine rhetoric and conspiracy theory instead of listening to actual science," and that she was being scapegoated for challenging the lawmakers.

What is the covid-19 situation in Tennessee?

This development is particularly bad in a state which has already been slow in its vaccine rollout. As of July 15, only 38.88% of the population is fully vaccinated.

In terms of cases and deaths, the state has seen 859,116 cases and 12,535 deaths. Tennessee ranks in the top five states with most cases per 100,000 people throughout the pandemic with 12,580 cases per 100,000 people.

Tennessee’s count of known delta variant cases rose from 27 on June 24 to 125 as of Monday, according to state virus data.