Stopping of youth vaccine outreach could mean virus spread when school starts

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Vaccine outreach to minors is now being stopped in Tennessee. School districts in the Tri-Cities will be open for the fall within the next month, meaning children could be at risk if unvaccinated.

Tennessee fired its top vaccine official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus on Monday as Republican lawmakers grew tired of efforts to promote vaccinations for minors. The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) then issued a directive to stop vaccine outreach to children.

Her firing comes as Tennessee ranks number one in the country for COVID-19 cases per capita over the last two weeks. In Northeast Tennessee, the number of active cases is over 200.

According to TDH, 17.3% of Tennesseans ages 12-15 have been vaccinated, 12.8% of them fully. The rates are 28.2% and 19.0% among 16-20 year-olds statewide.

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) said the decision to stop outreach to minors opens the door for outbreaks.

“Diseases like the measles and the mumps and polio. Things that have ravaged our communities that have pretty much been eradicated because of vaccines. There’s a possibility that those will come back,” Akbari said.

The Department of Health said they are not stopping vaccinations themselves, however.

But the directive has been confusing to some institutions about what can and cannot be done in terms of vaccines and minors. The Sullivan County Regional Health Department is unsure if they’ll be able to hold flu vaccination clinics at schools under the directive.

The first fully in-person school year starts in less than a month, which brings concern for spread among unvaccinated students.

WJHL asked Tri-Cities area districts if they planned to educate or recommend the vaccine to parents for their students. None were able to speak with WJHL on-camera, but some indicated they were creating a plan.

In higher education, East Tennessee State University said they are recommending, but not requiring the vaccine for incoming freshmen.

An ETSU spokesperson said parents and students have been sent vaccine information via email. He also said free vaccines are available for freshmen at summer orientation sessions.

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