Tennessee resuming nearly all adolescent vaccine advocacy

Tennessee is resuming almost all of its adolescent vaccine advocacy efforts, a top health official announced on Friday, following backlash for the state's reported plans to suspend outreach. 

Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told reporters that the state will return to promoting all vaccines for children and hosting vaccination events on school property, including some next week, after a “pause.” 

But the agency will permanently stop distributing 11 social media posts directed at children that show them without a parent, she added. 

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“Everything else was paused and is now resumed,” Piercey said. 

“I want to assure you that the department’s commitment to immunization is completely unchanged,” she added. 

The Tennessean reported earlier this month that the Tennessee Department of Health planned to stop its outreach advocating for vaccines for adolescents against all diseases, including COVID-19, sparking nationwide outrage.

The article, which cited an internal report and agency emails, said the halt in vaccine advocacy followed criticism over immunization efforts directed toward minors, including by lawmakers. 

Piercey said during the briefing that the pause in outreach “over the last few weeks” revolved around communication and marketing, noting “we have not slowed down our vaccination efforts.”

The top health official said the agency used the time to review its marketing materials to “make sure they were appropriately directed at parents.”

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“The reason that we paused is because we wanted to leave no room for interpretation about where we are shooting, and we are shooting to get the message to parents,” she said. “And there was a perception we were marketing to children, and that totally was against our view about the importance of parental authority.”

Piercey specifically cited that the decision to review the outreach materials followed comments from legislators that “felt that we were targeting children in those marketing materials.”

But she said minors in “fringe and nuanced” situations would still be permitted to get the COVID-19 vaccine without a parent’s permission.

Tennessee’s health department also came under fire this month when the state’s top vaccination official told the newspaper that she was terminated after she sent a letter to providers about a doctrine that allows minors aged 14 and older to get vaccinated without a parent’s permission.

The state has one of the lower COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country, with 38.5 percent of the population fully vaccinated. At the same time, cases have more than tripled in the past 14 weeks, according to data from The New York Times.