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Dr. Fiscus' performance reviews were overwhelmingly positive before Tennessee suddenly fired her

Tennessee's former top vaccine official was praised for her strong leadership months before she was fired for a "lack of effective leadership."

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The same doctor who called for the firing of Tennessee’s top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, approved years’ worth of glowing reviews about her work performance.

On Thursday, News4 in Nashville obtained a copy of Dr. Fiscus' personnel file

In a performance review dated October 2020 — nine months before she was terminated for her “failure to maintain good working relationships with members of her team, her lack of effective leadership,” and “her lack of appropriate management, and unwillingness to consult with superiors and other internal stakeholders on VPDIP projects” — Dr. Fiscus was praised for strong leadership and trustworthiness with Tennessee’s immunization program.

“Dr. Fiscus is a trusted and reliable advocate to promote vaccination in Tennessee,” the review stated. “Not only is she an advocate within the state but is becoming a recognized national voice promoting the public health benefits of immunization programs."

Performance reviews dating back to 2016 take a similar tone, in which her bosses describe her as a 'strong leader' and in 2020 doing 'an outstanding job representing TDH and CEDEP.

That review went on to say, in part:

“Her work has far exceeded expectations in regard to outreach to stakeholder groups and collaborators in the [COVID-19] response.”

Dr. Fiscus believes her firing was politically motivated, after a letter she sent to vaccine distribution partners citing a doctrine allowing for some Tennessee teenagers to be vaccinated without parental consent that stirred controversy among some Republican state lawmakers. This also comes on the heels of a renewed rise in COVID-19 cases in Tennessee as the state continues to find itself well below the national average for people vaccinated against COVID-19.

That letter was about the state's "mature minor" doctrine, which says healthcare workers can administer vaccines, provide emergency care, provide contraception or prenatal care to children 14 and older without parental consent. The law is not unique to Tennessee and has long been considered a form of patients rights for unemancipated minors possessing the maturity to make decisions about their health.

Shortly after she sent the letter, Fiscus said vaccine outreach programs to children were paused. She believes she was used as a scapegoat. 

A statement from the department of health released Thursday refuted that the department had paused childhood immunization programs or COVID-19 vaccine access. However, the letter did not specifically address changes to outreach or the department's efforts to actively inform parents and adolescent teens of vaccines in public school settings.

According to internal documents and emails first reported by the Tennessean, the department quietly ended all vaccine outreach -- including for routine vaccines -- for adolescents and stopped all vaccine events on school property. The documents also detailed the agency’s moves to remove adolescent teens from the mailing list for reminders about subsequent doses of the COVID-19 and HPV vaccines for those who had not been fully immunized.