TENNESSEE, USA — The Tennessee Department of Health said it is working to clarify "misinformation" that it is stopping childhood immunization and vaccine efforts in the state after internal documents showed it would end vaccine outreach in Tennessee schools.
After the high profile firing of Tennessee's top vaccine official, internal documents and emails first reported by the Tennessean showed that the TDH would end all vaccine outreach for adolescents and stop all vaccine events on school property.
That would apply not only to COVID-19 vaccines, but also to common childhood immunizations for things like chicken pox, measles, mumps, polio, and even hepatitis.
In the wake of criticism from doctors and others, the TDH issued a press release Thursday to clarify that information and access to vaccinations for children through state health departments will continue and "there has been no disruption to these services." However, the TDH did not specifically talk about its efforts to actively engage in outreach to disseminate information about childhood vaccines -- only that the information and access for parents "will continue."
"There has been no disruption to the childhood immunization program or access to the COVID-19 vaccine while the department has evaluated annual marketing efforts intended for parents,” said Tennessee Department of Health commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “The Tennessee Department of Health not only supports immunizations but continues to provide valuable information and access to parents who are seeking vaccinations for their children. We are proud of the efforts of our staff across the state and will continue to promote vaccination and the vaccination work of our partners.”
According to the press release, Tennessee has a long history of being one of the top performing programs in the country when it comes to childhood immunizations. The TDH credits the efforts of rural and metro health departments across the state for the success.
“While we were concerned when childhood immunization rates temporarily dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are glad that we are seeing vaccination rates begin to rebound. We will continue supporting parents who are working to get their families’ immunization schedules back on track,” Piercey said.
The Knox County Health Department is not subject to the new TDH policy, as state law requires regional departments in the largest metropolitan areas to operate largely independent from the state. The top six counties, including Knox and Hamilton counties, oversee their own health departments.
However, the health departments of the other 89 rural counties in Tennessee operate under the direct supervision of the Tennessee Department of Health.