Tennessee’s top vaccination official says she was fired over politics, teen vaccines

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 7:22 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee’s top vaccination official says she was fired for simply doing her job, promoting the COVID-19 vaccine, and providing factual information.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus says serving as the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health amid a pandemic has been a rewarding challenge.

“This is a job that I absolutely love. It’s work that I love,” said Fiscus. “The people in the Tennessee Department of Health are amazing, and they have worked themselves to exhaustion.”

But on Monday, Fiscus says she was fired.

“I was given a choice to resign or be terminated and I chose to be terminated because I hadn’t done anything wrong,” Fiscus said.

Fiscus had come under heavy criticism from some Republican state lawmakers for a memo she sent to health providers.

The memo included information about their legal options if minors showed up wanting a COVID-19 vaccine without their parent’s permission.

“I asked our Office of General Counsel to provide some language to explain the Mature Minor Doctrine which has been in place since a [state] Supreme Court ruling in 1987 and sent that out in a memo to vaccine providers,” said Fiscus. “Some of our legislators felt that the memo was meant to undermine parental authority rather than providing factual information to vaccine providers in the state on how to care for minors.”

According to a document published by the Tennessee Department of Health, the Mature Minor Doctrine permits healthcare providers to treat certain minors without parental consent.

The doctrine says, in part, that minors between the ages of 14 and 18 may be treated without parental consent unless the doctor believes the minor is not sufficiently mature to make his or her own health care decisions.

Things boiled over in a legislative committee hearing last month when Republicans brought the issue up and criticized Fiscus for sending the memo explaining the Mature Minor Doctrine to providers.

“She may not have said ‘go ahead and vaccinate these kids’ but boy she sure gave the roadmap of how to do it and get around it with the law,” said Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka. “Unbelievable that that would happen in our great state of Tennessee.”

Republicans threatened to dissolve the Tennessee Department of Health and suggested they stop promoting vaccines toward children.

The department appears to have listened.

Vaccine advertisements featuring children have been scrubbed from the department’s website and social media accounts.

Fiscus says she was scapegoated and fired to appease those lawmakers and says the consequences go beyond COVID-19 vaccines.

“Our leadership of the Department of Health has instructed the Department of Health to no longer do outreach around immunizations for children of any kind,” said Fiscus. “That is the travesty where the people of Tennessee have been sold out for politics.”

Memphis State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the chair of the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus, is criticizing the decision to fire Fiscus.

“To have someone who has literally worked and lived through hell as a public health official and then to be let go because of politics and political issues, it’s ridiculous,” said Akbari. “It’s embarrassing.”

WMC Action News 5 reached out to both the Tennessee Department of Health and to Gov. Bill Lee’s office asking about the firing of Dr. Fiscus.

Spokespeople for both the Tennessee Department of Health and the governor’s office said they don’t comment on personnel matters.

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