Tennessee Will No Longer Do Any Vaccine Outreach, For Any Vaccines, to Kids

“This is a failure of public health to protect the people of Tennessee..."

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There’s been a lot of discussion around vaccines. And some people hold on to strong feelings that don’t seem to be rooted in science. And Tennessee’s latest move doesn’t sound like it’s going to help parents who hesitate to allow their kids to get the COVID vaccine – or any vaccine really. Here’s what’s going on.

According to CNN, the Tennessee Department of Health is stopping all vaccine outreach for adolescents, even vaccines that aren’t related to the current pandemic. This means the outreach will no longer center on encouraging COVID-19 second doses, kindergarten vaccination surveys, or HPV vaccine reminders.

According to The Tennessean, which first reported on the new shift in strategy, the decision to end the vaccine outreach and school events is a direct decision from Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey.

The publication also said that the state will no longer be adding teens to mailing lists for vaccine reminders with a fear that they could “potentially [be] interpreted as a solicitation to minors.” That could mean that, say, a booster shot reminder or a flu season flyer wouldn’t get sent out to kids.

This decision is worrying some experts who fear what will happen to the people living in the state with the pandemic waging on. Specifically, with the Delta variant on an upswing, and with only 38 percent of people in Tennessee being fully vaccinated, the adults and teens are at particular risk of the coronavirus.

But it’s also a problem for the health of kids in general. Regular, scheduled, regular vaccinations keep kids safe and lessen the risk of preventable viral outbreaks. A lack of reminders on the vaccines could lead to fewer kids being vaccinated for life-saving doses.

Tennessee’s former top vaccine official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, who was fired without explanation earlier this week, took aim at conservative lawmakers who have been embracing misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine.

“This is a failure of public health to protect the people of Tennessee and that is what is ‘reprehensible,’ she said on July 12. “When the people elected and appointed to lead this state put their political gains ahead of the public good, they have betrayed the people who have trusted them with their lives.”

Some point to this shift being related to experts who say teens should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated or not. And in some cases, these teens should be able to seek vaccination without their parents’ consent first.

This was reiterated by three health policy experts who published commentary in the Journal of American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics stating teens should be able to decide for themselves if they want to get vaccinated.

“Children and adolescents have the capacity to understand and reason about low-risk and high-benefit health care interventions. State laws should therefore authorize minors to consent to COVID-19 vaccination without parental permission,” wrote Larissa Morgan of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, Jason Schwartz of Yale University, and Dominic Sist of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

“In the context of vaccination, some older minors may possess a more accurate understanding of the risks and benefits of a vaccine than their hesitant guardians.”

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