During a press conference Thursday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee came out in support of the health department’s recent actions that landed the state in the national spotlight.
The Tennessee Department of Health fired the state’s top vaccine official, Dr. Michelle “Shelley” Fiscus, which prompted questions about vaccine outreach to children.
“Regarding individual personnel decisions, I trust the department to make decisions consistent with the vision,” Lee said.
The state also recently announced that health departments would no longer vaccinate teens without parental permission — contrasting the decades-old Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that allows teenagers ages 14-17 to get vaccines without parent or guardian consent.
“Parents are the best decider … of the health decisions for children,” Lee said. “We need to do nothing, in government, to go around that parental decision.”
Tennessee has experienced a steady incline in weekly cases this past month, and the COVID-19 delta variant now accounts for more than 80% of new cases nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tennessee maintains one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the nation. Through July 21, about 39% of residents were fully vaccinated. About 14% of children ages 12-15 and 24% of individuals ages 16-20 were fully vaccinated.
Lee says he’s still encouraging people to go get vaccinated, though he stresses that it’s a personal choice.
“The number one tool that we have to manage COVID-19, including the delta variant, is the vaccine,” he said. “And we encourage Tennesseans to pursue that.”