Ex-Tennessee vaccine official blames 'hesitant' GOP governor for state's COVID struggle: The 'department was gagged'

Ex-Tennessee vaccine official blames 'hesitant' GOP governor for state's COVID struggle: The 'department was gagged'
Vials containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in January 2021, Wikimedia Commons

A former Tennessee vaccine official is shedding light on the state's flurry of missed opportunities where the COVID-vaccine roll-out is concerned.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the former director of Tennessee's COVID-19 vaccination program, recently sat down for an interview with News Channel 5-Nashville where she discussed her concerns about the state health department's issues that appeared to be a result of Gov. Bill Lee's (R) hesitancy.

According to the publication, Fiscus described part of the problem as being the governor and his own reservations about the vaccine.

"Did you feel like you were gagged?" Fiscus was asked.

"Yes," Fiscus admitted as she added, "I feel like the department was gagged."

Fiscus spent a total of 16 months as a frontline worker for Tennessee's Department of Health and she admits that it was not a simple feat.

"To be repeatedly told, no, you won't talk about it, you won't message it, you won't provide strong recommendations, you won't share CDC-created materials, it's demoralizing, it's frustrating, it's so incredibly wrong, it's malpractice," Fiscus said.

The latest interview comes just two weeks after Fiscus was fired amid Republican backlash over the Tennessee Department of Health's initiative to vaccinate teenagers for COVID without the need for parental consent. Public health experts' efforts came as the state faced an uptick in cases due to the accelerated spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

"Unfortunately, we're trying to protect a people that aren't all that interested in being protected from themselves," she said.

When asked if he planned to get the vaccine himself, Fiscus says Lee said: "I'll do what I think every Tennessean ought to do and determine if they believe it's a safe and effective vaccine and then talk to my doctor about it."

Instead of taking the vaccine for its health benefits, Lee reportedly claimed he was taking it from the perspective of a leader. "It wasn't 'absolutely because this is the tool we have to stop a pandemic, absolutely as the leader in this state I'm going to lead by example and I'm going to go get this vaccine,'" Fiscus said.

While Fiscus noted the goverbor's hesitancy, she made it clear that she does not believe he is an anti-vaxxer. "I would not go so far as to say that the governor is an anti-vaxxer, no," Fiscus admitted. "I think that the governor has a lot of hesitancy around vaccines."

As cases continue to rise, the state is facing an uphill battle to mitigate the spread of the virus. Fiscus also expressed concern about that. "We lost lives that didn't need to be lost. We're going to lose more that don't need to be lost. I don't know how people can sleep at night, I really don't."

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