The state government of Tennessee will resume all forms of immunization, except social media posts aimed specifically at children, after halting many forms of advocacy this month in response to conservative pressure, said the state’s top health official on Friday.
Tennessee is also facing a new coronavirus “surge” that shows no signs of slowing down, and deaths from the virus are expected to increase in the coming weeks, the health official has warned.
Health Commissioner Dr Lisa Piercey said the Tennessee Department of Health will resume outreach efforts by recommending vaccines for children and will once again host events on school property offering the COVID vaccine. -19, some of which will be next week. Department staff are no longer instructed to remove the agency’s logo from public vaccine information, she said.
“Nothing has been stopped for good,” Piercey said during a press briefing. “We paused a lot of things, and then we resumed it all.”
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Piercey said his agency would also, in rare circumstances, provide the COVID-19 vaccine to minors without their parents’ permission. The statement contradicts an announcement made this week by Conservative lawmakers, who said Piercey agreed in a private meeting to stop the practice.
The Tennessee Department of Health came to the country’s attention this month after an exclusive report from Tennessee found that the agency had significantly reduced its efforts to promote the coronavirus vaccine to minors. The changes came after conservative state lawmakers blasted the agency for gently recommending the vaccine to minors and proposing to disband the entire agency to stop awareness.
Following the wrath of lawmakers, the Department of Health quietly began to make changes, according to a series of internal documents obtained by The Tennessean. He deleted some pro-vaccine Facebook and Twitter posts that prompted lawmakers and asked employees to stop all social media posts related to adolescent vaccines and not to hold vaccine-focused immunization events. adolescents or on school property.
Days later, agency staff were ordered to stop all adolescent vaccinations or adolescent vaccines for all illnesses, not just coronavirus. Agency employees have been urged to remove the Ministry of Health logo from vaccine information provided to the public. The agency also fired its chief vaccine officer, Michelle Fiscus, and postponed an online vaccination summit for healthcare professionals.
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The changes, which took effect just as the coronavirus started to spread again in Tennessee, drew great attention to the state. The pullback has been criticized by nationally and nationally politicians, including former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, physician and prominent Tennessee Republican, and global health advocate Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Dan Rather, an iconic television presenter, called the decisions “madness.”
Piercey, who was on vacation in Greece for much of the controversy but has since returned to Tennessee, stressed Friday that the agency had never stopped providing vaccines and had only cut back on its “communications and marketing” related to vaccinations.
This outreach was “on hold” to give the agency time to ensure that its message is not directed at minors but at their parents, who are the “best decision makers” when it comes to vaccination of minors, said Piercey.
“The reason we took a break was because we wanted to leave no room for interpretation on where we’re shooting,” said Piercey. “And we shoot to get the message across to parents. And there was a perception that we were marketing to kids and that was totally contrary to our view on the importance of parental authority.”
When asked why – if the goal was only to avoid messaging minors – staff were asked to remove the agency’s logo from all vaccine materials they released to the public, Piercey said the department needed time to ensure the documents met their new standard.
“We just wanted to be very careful in the short term to make sure that anything with our logo was sent correctly, as we had planned,” Piercey said. “Now that we’ve got that done, we’re putting our logo back on things.”
Piercey said the only form of vaccine awareness that was not coming back was social media posts that directly targeted minors. The agency will still include children in vaccine awareness on social media and advertisements, but this post will mention parents and feature photos of parents or entire families, Piercey said.
Tennessee will still sparingly vaccinate teens without parental permission
Piercey also confirmed that the Department of Health will continue to use the Tennessee Mature Minor Doctrine sparingly, a long-standing legal doctrine that allows children over the age of 14 to be vaccinated without their parents’ permission. . Doctrine allows, but does not require, that medical providers provide the vaccine.
The doctrine infuriated some conservative lawmakers. In June, several Republicans on the Tennessee Joint Government Operations Committee criticized Piercey for authorizing the use of the doctrine, insisting that children should not be allowed to be vaccinated against the coronavirus without parental consent. . Piercey said the Department of Health was aware of the doctrine cited only eight times, including three for her own children, who were vaccinated while she was at work.
Lawmakers returned to the issue this week. During another meeting of the same committee, Senator Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, and Representative John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, read a joint statement announcing that they had met privately with Piercey and a representative of the administration of Governor Bill Lee. on vaccines.
During that meeting, they said, Piercey “confirmed” that it was not the policy of his agency or the administration to vaccinate minors without parental consent.
“At this point, no state-related entity should administer the COVID-19 vaccines, which the FDA considers to be an unapproved product under emergency use authorization, without parental consent, nor marketing to minors, ”Roberts said.
Piercey said on Friday lawmakers weren’t quite right. The Department of Health would continue to use the doctrine as appropriate, although these circumstances are in “nuanced and marginal” cases, she said. The doctrine can also still be relied on by private vaccine providers, she said.
“We’re not telling them not to do it,” Piercey said. “This mature minor doctrine is still applicable in Tennessee.”
COVID-19 infections fueled by the delta variant on the rise again
Tennessee will restart its vaccination campaign when vaccines are needed most. The coronavirus pandemic is making a comeback in the state, where less than 39% of residents are fully vaccinated.
The average number of infections per day in Tennessee has almost quintupled over the past month – from 198 to 918 – and nearly all new infections are among the unvaccinated.
The state is now aware of nearly 9,000 active infections, the most since early May, and the average test positivity rate has fallen from a low of 2.1% to 8.8%, data shows viral infections.
The new spread of the virus is most dramatic in the Memphis area, but is now visible statewide, data shows.
Piercey said it’s estimated that the majority of new infections in Tennessee are the result of the delta variant, a more transmissible mutation of the original virus. The variant has sparked a national resurgence of the virus, and Tennessee is no exception, Piercey said.
“We’re not close to where we were in November, December or January, but this is a noticeable increase and currently shows no signs of slowing down,” Piercey said.
Piercey noted that the acceleration of the virus had started putting more Tennesseans in the hospital. The number of coronavirus patients currently in hospital rose from around 220 earlier this month to around 480 on Thursday, the state reported.
The outbreak has yet to trigger a significant increase in deaths.
“Unfortunately,” Piercey warned, “it will likely happen in the next few weeks.”
Brett Kelman is the medical journalist for Tennessean. He can be reached at 615-259-8287 or at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @brettkelman.