(The Center Square) – A discussion on Tennessee's vaccination policies and a follow-up on a past meeting with the Department of Health dominated the Tennessee Legislature's Government Operations Committee meeting Wednesday.
Committee co-chair Rep. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, started the meeting with a statement regarding the state’s vaccination efforts, which have made headlines in recent weeks, stating the only thing that has changed is the state discontinuing COVID-19 vaccine marketing toward minors and vaccinating children without parental consent.
“To anyone who is bullying, bribing, shaming, coercing or cajoling an individual into taking the vaccine, I strongly urge you to consult with your legal counsel for potential violations of federal law,” Roberts said. “It is not appropriate for a state employee to use their authority to coerce a student into receiving the vaccine.”
The committee agreed to postpone an appearance requested of Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey to next month because of a scheduled vacation for Piercey, but Roberts said he and a staff member from Gov. Bill Lee's office did meet with Piercey before granting the postponement.
“To be clear, the Tennessee Department of Health was not asked to stop vaccinating children nor have they stopped vaccinating children for COVID-19 or any other disease,” Roberts said. “Rather, they were asked to stop vaccinating children for COVID-19 without parental consent and stop marketing to minors.”
Wednesday's meeting took place a little more than a week after the state’s top vaccine official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, was fired. Fiscus said she was fired as the result of sending a memo to vaccine providers about the Mature Minor Doctrine, which related case law from 1987 interpreted to say minors could choose to get health care, including a vaccine, without parental consent.
The Department of Health, however, released several documents last week, including a letter that said she was fired over a lack of leadership, poor working relationships with the members of her team and an unwillingness to consult with superiors.
Fiscus and the Mature Minor Doctrine were the subject of discussion at last month's Government Operations meeting that led to the committee asking the Department of Health to return to Wednesday’s meeting.
“Do these anti-science, anti-law [representatives] realize that the flyer that (Rep. Scott) Cepicky grandstanded with was created by the Governor’s Communications [Department] through a contract with Design Sensory? All Covid messages and advertising came from [Lee's communications team] not [the Department of Health.] #whywasfiscusfired,” Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, a member of the committee, tweeted.
Before Wednesday’s meeting, Roberts commented on several scenarios he believed were inappropriate involving the vaccine and teachers, including a football coach requiring players who are not vaccinated to wear masks and get tested weekly at their own expense and a teacher who segregated vaccinated and unvaccinated students.
“Entering a parent into a drawing for a car if they vaccinate their child is reprehensible, immoral and likely illegal,” Roberts said.
The committee also discussed and passed the University of Tennessee’s vaccination rule, which requires students to prove their vaccination for mumps, measles, rubella, varicella and meningitis but not for the flu and COVID-19.
“We are strongly recommending that our employees and students get the vaccine but not requiring it,” University of Tennessee System General Counsel Ryan Stinnett said.