The top vaccination official in the state of Tennessee was terminated after she published a memo in support of vaccinating teenagers without parental consent. Dr. Michelle Fiscus, formerly the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases at the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH), said she received a letter of termination and a letter of resignation. The pediatrician chose to be terminated and added that no reason was given from her ouster.
Fiscus’s July 12 firing arose from her May 10 memo detailing the mature minor doctrine. According to the doctrine, minors still with their parents or legal guardians may have the maturity to choose or decline health care treatment without the need for parental approval. Based on this doctrine, Fiscus called on teenagers 14 years old and up to get vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19). She defended her action: “What I did was put out a memo with factual information … about where the guidelines are around vaccinating minors.”
Fiscus remarked that her termination was political in nature and meant to appease lawmakers. She said: “I was told that I should have been more ‘politically aware’ and that I ‘poked the bear’ when I sent [the May 10] memo to medical providers. I am not a political operative. I am a physician who was, until today, charged with protecting the people of Tennessee, including its children against preventable diseases like COVID-19.”
Following her firing, Fiscus penned a response where she expressed both disappointment toward Tennessee’s leaders and fear for the state. She also wrote down her anger “for the amazing people of the [TDH] who have been mistreated by an uneducated public and leaders who have only their own interests in mind.”
Meanwhile, TDH and the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declined to comment on Fiscus’s firing. Both cited personal matters for their refusal.
Coronavirus vaccines have caused the deaths of teens
Some Democratic lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly slammed Fiscus’s ouster. State Sen. Raumesh Akbari said the former TDH director was “sacrificed in favor of anti-vaccine ideology.” State Rep. John Ray Clemmons meanwhile expressed his outrage through a statement he gave to News Channel 5. “The particular circumstances of Fiscus’s firing are nothing short of a slap in the face to every public servant working for our state,” he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also weighed in on Fiscus’s ouster. In a July 13 press release, it dubbed her termination as “the most recent example of a concerning trend of politicizing public health expertise.” It also expressed concern over Tennessee’s abrupt cancellation of promoting vaccines – including those for other communicable diseases. “Actions like this only increase the likelihood that we’ll see other outbreaks of these diseases even as we continue to fight COVID-19,” the AAP statement said.
The move to fire Fiscus from her job due to her insistence on the mature minor doctrine as a basis for COVID-19 vaccination came amid reports of post-vaccination deaths in teenagers. Most of the victims received the Pfizer/BioNTech two-dose mRNA vaccine, which was granted emergency use authorization in December 2020.
Thirteen-year-old Michigander Jacob Clynick died on June 16, three days after he got his second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. His family described him as very healthy and said he did not have any known underlying medical conditions. According to his aunt Tami Burages, he initially experienced fatigue and fever – supposedly “normal” side effects – after his June 13 inoculation. (Related: 13-year-old dies in his sleep three days after receiving second dose of Pfizer vaccine.)
But on June 15, Clynick started complaining about a stomachache before going to bed. Burages said the family considered Clynick’s stomachache as one that did not warrant medical attention. Little did the Clynicks knew that that evening would be the last time they saw Jacob alive. “He passed away in the middle of the night at home,” Burages said.
Twenty-year-old Hadley Huffman, also from Michigan, died on June 15 following her second COVID-19 vaccine dose. She appeared to be fit and active just like Clynick, and was described as “a social butterfly with a magnetic personality.” While it is unclear what brand of COVID-19 shot she received, reports have posited it to be the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. (Related: 20-year-old Wayne State University pre-med student Hadley Huffman dies unexpectedly after COVID shot.)