NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF / AP) — Tennessee officials have fired the state’s top vaccination official, who had been facing scrutiny from Republican state lawmakers over her department’s outreach efforts to vaccinate teenagers against COVID-19.
Dr. Michelle Fiscus with the Tennessee Department of Health, says that she was fired Monday to appease lawmakers.
"I was given a decision to resign my position or be terminated and I chose to be terminated because I love my job and I didn't do anything wrong," said Dr. Fiscus. "What I did was put out a memo with factual information. Information about where the guidelines are around vaccinating minors, providing medical care to minors without parental consent that has been Tennessee case-law since 1987."
Dr. Fiscus said she believes her termination came as a result of her sending out information about the Mature Minor Doctrine, case law governing consent for physician treatment for minors.
"I had medical providers asking what to do if someone under age presented themselves for COVID-19 vaccine if they could provide it or not," she said.
Lawmakers took issue with the memo. In a June 16 Government Ops Joint Committee, Tullahoma Republican Representative Sen. Janice Bowling said the doctrine wasn't in the code and had no power.
"In Tennessee, we are a common-law state and 12-year-olds are under the responsibility of their parents and it's very disconcerting to see the memo, the letter from Dr. Fiscus stating that Tennessee law allows the department of health to give vaccinations to children 14-years of age," said Sen. Bowling in the committee.
Watch the full interview with Dr. Fiscus below:
Dr. Fiscus believes the termination was political in nature. She referenced both Governor Bill Lee and current TDH Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey's ambitions for future elections.
Dr. Fiscus also supplied an email showing a conversation between her and a TDH general counsel who signed off on the distribution of the Mature Minor Doctrine. He said it was just "posted to the website and is blessed by the Governor’s office". The email then said the info can be forwarded to anyone.
"The firing of me doesn't change the case law in Tennessee. Kids 14 and older can still get vaccinated today just like they could get vaccinated yesterday. They wanted to make this a giant issue," said Fiscus.
A spokesperson for Governor Bill Lee said they couldn't comment on the firing because it was a personnel issue.
Health Department spokesperson Sarah Tanksley said the agency would not comment on the termination as well.
As of Monday, state and federal data showed 38% of Tennesseans were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, lagging behind much of the nation.
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons (District 55) issued the following statement on Fiscus' firing:
"I want Governor Lee and Commissioner Piercey to explain to those I represent why they fired Dr. Fiscus. Every person in Tennessee relies on and reasonably expects the professionals serving in our state government to rise above politics and perform their respective roles to their utmost ability. We all deserve an explanation from Governor Lee and Commissioner Piercey about Dr. Fiscus’ termination.
Having read Dr. Fiscus’ statement [t.e2ma.net], I am outraged. It is disturbing to think that a governor would terminate someone of Dr. Fiscus’ expertise and experience, especially an individual who has played such a vital role throughout a pandemic, just to appease a cabal of science-denying extremists who currently control the Tennessee Republican Party and have irresponsibly politicized and spread misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
The particular circumstances of Dr. Fiscus’ firing are nothing short of a slap in the face to every public servant working for our state. This will unquestionably have a chilling effect on those playing similarly important roles throughout our government and raises fair questions about who will replace her in this important role. It is already difficult enough to get qualified professionals to work for the government. What qualified professional would want this job now? Will the governor require a political litmus test for all job applicants? Will an individual be offered the job with the understanding that they are not to fully carry out the job description? We cannot and should not allow this type of questionable behavior in our government at any level. Such conduct by those in elected office only serves to further erode public confidence in our government. Nothing about this situation resembles good governance or is intended to protect the public health and welfare of our state in any way. Tennessee families deserve better."