Tennessee Republicans say they are now pleased with state health officials after chiding them last month for being overzealous about vaccinating children. Lawmakers on the Government Operations Committee met Wednesday and made no mention of dissolving the state’s health department, as suggested at a meeting in June.
The health department has committed to stop marketing the COVID vaccine to teenagers, which includes vaccination events at schools. And state entities will no longer vaccinate teens without parental consent, though it is allowed under present law and had only happened a few times, according to the department.
“At this point, no state-related entity should be administering the COVID-19 vaccine … without parental consent or marketing to minors,” said Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, who chairs the committee. “That is our desire and that is our intent.”
Roberts says he and others who raised concerns are not opposed to the COVID vaccine or even children taking it, but only with a parent’s consent. They add that the state’s urban health departments, which operate independently, are expected to follow the state’s new policy.
Nashville’s health department has not made any changes and continues holding vaccination events at schools.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Republican leaders made no mention of last week’s firing of the state’s vaccine director, Dr. Shelley Fiscus. A memo she wrote about when parental consent is required set off the initial backlash.
Democrats like Nashville Rep. Vincent Dixie accuse GOP lawmakers of trying to win favor of anti-vaccine conservatives by intentionally slowing down the COVID vaccination effort, even as the state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
“This is not a political game,” Dixie said outside the hearing, where Democrats were not allowed to speak against the joint statement issued by Chairman Kerry Roberts. “This is a health issue. We’re talking about lives, and they’re playing a political game.”