Tennessee’s Very Bad, No Good, Awful Example

Less than two weeks ago, Tennessee ordered an end to all vaccination in schools and no more information to teens about vaccine availability—for Covid-19 or for anything else.

Just three weeks ago, only 195 people in Tennessee were hospitalized with COVID-19. In Memphis, Methodist University Hospital had no COVID patients at all. Now numbers are soaring. Covid-19 hospitalizations across Tennessee almost tripled, to 579. 

On July 12, the state fired its top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health. Dr. Fiscus issued a written statement, saying in part:

Each of us should be waking up every morning with one question on our minds: ‘What can I do to protect the people of Tennessee against COVID-19?’ Instead, our leaders are putting barriers in place to ensure the people of Tennessee remain at-risk, even with the delta variant bearing down upon us.

What’s more is that the leadership of the Tennessee Department of Health has reacted to the sabre rattling from the Government Operations Committee by halting ALL vaccination outreach for children. Not just COVID-19 vaccine outreach for teens, but ALL communications around vaccines of any kind. No back-to-school messaging to the more than 30,000 parents who did not get their children measles vaccines last year due to the pandemic.  No messaging around human papilloma virus vaccine to the residents of the state with one of the highest HPV cancer rates in the country. No observation of National Immunization Awareness Month in August. No reminders to the parents of teens who are late in receiving their second COVID-19 vaccine. THIS is a failure of public health to protect the people of Tennessee and THAT is what is ‘reprehensible’. When the people elected and appointed to lead this state put their political gains ahead of the public good, they have betrayed the people who have trusted them with their lives.”

Just a little reminder about vaccines:

Vaccination ended smallpox. Smallpox used to kill millions of people every year. A smallpox epidemic swept the United States between 1898 and 1904. Various state and local health officials mandated vaccinations. Some people resisted fiercely

“The very first vaccine, which protected against smallpox, was developed in England in the late eighteenth century; it consisted of pus taken from a cowpox blister, which was inserted into a small cut in the skin. As word of the new procedure spread, it was met with enthusiasm but also dread. While many patients and physicians were eager to fend off one of that era’s most feared diseases, many others balked at the prospect of contaminating their healthy bodies with disease matter from an animal.”

Vaccination became standard, but some still resisted and there were isolated U.S. outbreaks until 1949. In the 1950s, the World Health Organization mounted a major global vaccination effort. This completely eradicated smallpox. No cases have been found anywhere in the world since the mid-1970s

Vaccination ended polio. 

“Polio infections peaked in the United States in 1952, with more than 21,000 paralytic cases. Following introduction of effective vaccines in 1955 (inactivated polio vaccine, IPV) and 1961 (oral poliovirus vaccine, OPV), polio incidence declined rapidly. The last case of wild poliovirus acquired in the United States was in 1979…. The Global Polio Eradication Program has dramatically reduced wild poliovirus transmission throughout the world. Type 2 and 3 wild poliovirus have been eradicated worldwide and endemic circulation of type 1 wild poliovirus persists only in two countries.”

Before COVID-19 even existed, historian Elena Conis reviewed the history of vaccination resistance, which has met every single new vaccine from smallpox onward. Her conclusion sounds prophetic, in the light of today’s vaccination resistance:

“Back then, states responded to epidemics of vaccine-preventable disease with ever-stricter laws and regulations requiring vaccination, and citizens who opposed vaccination pushed back with lawsuits and proposed legislation of their own. In time, other factors quieted the issue—in the face of war, or a new epidemic, or new cultural and economic preoccupations of the middle class, vaccination consensus often came easily. But, eventually, the issue always came back to the forefront. Americans’ reasons for resisting specific vaccines have always reflected the norms and anxieties of a particular moment in time; our national dispute about how much power government should exercise in enforcing vaccination, however, has been with us since the dawn of vaccination and shows no promise of permanent resolution.”

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