The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed Wednesday it is temporarily halting all adolescent vaccine outreach, even for vaccines not related to Covid-19, telling CNN the issue is “polarized.”
“We recognize where we are around the national conversation around vaccinations and it is a polarized conversation, and that is true in our state. And so we're just taking this opportunity to evaluate our messaging and to ensure that we're not hurting our efforts,” spokesperson Sarah Tanksley told CNN in a phone call.
Dr. Michelle Fiscus, a pediatrician who was the state’s medical director of the vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization, said Monday she was fired in a dispute over parental permission for vaccinating children. She said the health agency was stopping all its outreach efforts involving childhood vaccines.
Tanksley said Covid-19 and other childhood vaccines would still be available while the department of health re-evaluates the vaccination notification process. She said the goal was to ensure that vaccination reminders are sent to the parents of the adolescent.
In a few cases, immunization reminders were sent directly to minors who had contact information listed in the department’s electronic health records, according to a statement given to CNN by the Tennessee Department of Health.
The halt impacts all outreach to adolescents, including Covid-19 second-dose reminders, HPV vaccine reminders and kindergarten vaccination surveys, according to the documents circulated within the department obtained by CNN and first reported by The Tennessean.
Research published in June by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed routine child and adolescent vaccinations dropped in the early stage of the coronavirus pandemic, but Tanksley said she doesn’t think the pause in communications to Tennessee’s adolescents will have an impact.
“We're already seeing our childhood immunization rates rebound to pre-pandemic levels,” Tanksley told CNN Wednesday. “This is just kind of our opportunity to recognize the conversation and be mindful of those conversations so that we can be as supportive to the decision makers in our state.”
Tanksley said she is confident the department of health will continue to successfully communicate with parents and providers. “This is not a monthlong evaluation period or anything like that,” she said.
Asked how many children have gotten the Covid-19 vaccine without parental permission in Tennessee, Tanksley cited the number previously shared before a Tennessee Government Operations Committee hearing in June: eight unaccompanied adolescents, five of whom were already at a health facility for other reasons when they got vaccinated. The other three were the children of the state’s health commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, according to Piercey’s testimony at the hearing.
“The other three were my own children, who I sent unaccompanied to get their second dose because they’re 16 and their mom works,” Piercey said.