The Tennessee Department of Health is dropping a vaccine outreach campaign aimed at children and teenagers following outrage among some lawmakers and residents.
Since the middle of June, Republican lawmakers in the state have been accusing the agency of targeting minors and pressuring children to get COVID vaccines.
In a joint Government Operations Committee meeting, lawmakers asked Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey to stop using inappropriate methods to encourage young adults and teenagers to get vaccinated against the virus regardless of parental consent.
Representative Scott Cepickey (R-Culleoka) said: “We know how impressionable our young people are. For a department of ours to make it seem like you need a vaccine … to fit in is peer pressure applied by the state of Tennessee. Personally, I think it’s reprehensible that you would do that, that you would do that to our youth.”
He also drew attention to the marketing tactics that the health department had been using to try to get children’s attention. For example, they have been issuing colorful flyers featuring children getting the shot with phrases like “Give COVID-19 vaccines a shot.”
Minors don’t need parental consent to get COVID-19 shots in Tennessee
During the committee meeting, Piercey told lawmakers that minors can get vaccines without parental consent as part of the state’s Mature Minor Doctrine. This allows teens who are aged 14 to 18 to receive treatment from a physician without receiving parental consent unless the doctor feels the minor is not equipped to make their own healthcare decisions. The state is just one of five that has such a rule in place, while 41 states require minors to get consent from a parent or guardian to receive any type of immunization.
Piercey said that they are not “hiding in dark alleys and whispering to kids, hey, come get vaccinated,” but they do believe that it is the right thing to do and do not want to stop children from being able to get the vaccine if they wish.
Although she emphasized that the department is not encouraging minors to get vaccines without parental consent, their campaign did not sit well with many Tennesseans.
Meanwhile, the top vaccine official in the state, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, said that she was fired in the wake of the opposition to the state’s vaccine strategy for writing a memo citing a state Supreme Court opinion suggesting that children over the age of 14 can get any type of vaccine, including the COVID vaccine, without approval from their parents.
In an interview with CNN, she stated: “It is just astounding to me how absolutely political and self-centered our elected people are here and how very little they care for the people of Tennessee. The people of Tennessee are going to pay a price.”
At the same time, the Tennessee Department of Health is suspending COVID vaccine events on school property and stopping the mailings of postcards and other notices to teenagers reminding them to get their second dose of the vaccine.
Moving forward, postcards will only be sent to adults to avoid doing anything that may be interpreted as “solicitation of minors.” In addition, if the health department does issue information about vaccines, they will strip the agency’s logo off the documents in question.
Health experts warn of dangers of vaccinating children
Health experts around the world are urging caution when it comes to immunizing children against COVID-19. Although they acknowledge that such efforts may help to reduce outbreaks and stem the disease’s spread, there is limited information available about potential side effects in children, and many young boys who have received the vaccine have already been experiencing life-threatening heart infections. Moreover, because children are not good transmitters of the disease and are less likely than adults to suffer from severe COVID, the risk-to-reward ratio is not favorable.
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