People 'will continue to suffer': Former Tennessee vaccine director flees home amid COVID-related threats
The former vaccine director for the state of Tennessee has been forced to flee her home amid threats of violence related to COVID-19. In a new interview with BBC News, Dr. Michelle Fiscus was featured with her husband as they prepared to move out of their home.
As they packed up their belongings, they recalled the harrowing threats and taunts they've faced as a result of Fiscus' stance on mask mandates, mitigation measures, the COVID-19 vaccine and its distribution.
The former Tennessee public health official noted how the state's deep political divide has worsened over the course of the pandemic. According to Fiscus, the pushback and politicization have actually progressed since the vaccine has become more readily available. Disturbing COVID-related conspiracy theories have also contributed to the vitriol medical professionals like Fiscus face.
Fiscus' BBC News' interview comes after intensifying calls for her removal from leadership. Back in July, a letter attributed to Dr. Tim Jones, chief medical officer, recommended Fiscus' termination.
The letter, according to NPR.org, said "Fiscus should be removed due to complaints about her leadership approach and her handling of a letter explaining vaccination rights of minors for COVID-19 shots without notifying their parents, which helped prompt the backlash from lawmakers."
Shortly after reports began circulating about Fiscus' departure, some of her colleagues spoke out in her defense.
"I am so saddened by this news and honestly cannot comprehend it," Dr. Jill Obremskey, department medical director wrote, in a statement obtained by NPR. "Dr. Fiscus has put forth a herculean effort to assure COVID vaccine was available to anyone who wanted it. Because of her, many lives have been saved."
Speaking to The Associated Press after her departure, Fiscus shared her reaction as she expressed gratitude for her colleagues that did defend her.
"I am thankful to my colleagues at the Tennessee Department of Health for coming to my defense and admonishing the department leadership's decision to terminate me from my position," Fiscus told the AP.
She went on to share her opinion of how the pandemic has been politicized with personal agendas taking precedence over public health. "Tennessee's elected and appointed officials continue to put politics ahead of what is in the best interest of the health and wellbeing of the people of Tennessee," Fiscus said, adding, "and it is the people who will continue to suffer the consequences of these misguided priorities. It's shameful."