If Amazon delivers a dog muzzle to your office door (that you didn’t order), you might expect a pink slip to follow.
That’s what happened to Tennessee vaccination leader Michelle Fiscus when she committed the job-ending “error” of sharing the correct legal information with doctors about whether minors could receive the covid-19 vaccination without parental permission. Someone anonymously sent Fiscus a black dog muzzle to her office; days later, she was fired.
Talk about your dog whistle to politicians. “Without parental permission” are the three words in the English language most likely to launch a revolt, second only to the sentiments expressed by Second Amendment activists who say they will give up their guns only “when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.”
Parental rights are sacred and, most of the time, I would say, rightly so. But not necessarily when a lifesaving vaccine is being withheld by parents who’ve surrendered to political rhetoric over verifiable information.
Facts: The vaccine is effective against covid-19. The vaccine sometimes carries minimal-to-minute, temporary side effects. (I felt lousy for 10 hours after my second injection.) In states where vaccination rates are high, infections rates are low.
Let’s say you’re a 14- to 17-year-old who understands these facts and is skeptical of the political rhetoric from anti-vaxxers and their social media enablers. Let’s say you’d like to get yourself a shot of prevention, but your parents say, “not on your life.” What are your options?
This was the question that led to Fiscus’ dismissal. Health providers had contacted her department to find out how they should handle requests from minors for the vaccine. Fiscus issued a memo outlining the state’s long-standing “Mature Minor Doctrine” that allows health care providers to decide whether an adolescent has the capacity to make the decision without a parent. The doctrine has been on the books for 34 years.
Soon after the memo was posted online, however, some Tennessee legislators began sweating bullets, so to speak. This isn’t surprising. Only four other states and Washington, D.C., have such a doctrine, and the coronavirus vaccine has sparked a deadly partisan divide like few other issues.
To those who accept the findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other national experts, the response to vaccine skeptics is: the polio vaccine. It eradicated a debilitating disease. But to a certain cadre of Americans determined to believe anything but science, the coronavirus vaccine is a fascist, world-order, takeover drug created by the Chinese to speed things along. Even if further investigation finds that the coronavirus escaped through a lab accident in Wuhan, as some have long suspected, wouldn’t one still wish to inoculate oneself against such a potentially deadly disease?
Let’s just say, logic isn’t exactly humming along these days.
Fiscus, who is a pediatrician, knows this deeply. In interviews after her firing, she said her dismissal is symptomatic of a trend around the country that has resulted, as of May, in more than 250 public health officials leaving their jobs – either by firing or through protest resignations. She said Tennessee, which initially boasted one of the highest vaccination rates, is bowing to “saber-rattling of some of our legislators who felt that it was inappropriate to share the Mature Minor Doctrine that has been Tennessee Supreme Court case law since 1987.”
Thanks, surely, to political rhetoric, Tennessee’s fully vaccinated rate is about 38%, compared with roughly 48% nationwide, just as the more transmissible delta variant is sweeping the nation.
To deal with this looming crisis, Tennessee has halted all vaccine outreach to adolescents, not only those related to covid-19.
As a happy coronavirus-vaccinated human being, who is also inoculated by time against the demands of omniscient teenagers, it’s easy for me to insist that parents ought to get their kids, as well as themselves, vaccinated.
But we all know this mess is more complicated than that. Parents are increasingly reluctant to cede yet more control of their children’s lives to government “experts,” especially when it comes to health and education.
But covid-19, as we’ve said countless times, has affected everything, including the imperative to achieve herd immunity.
Simply put, one’s refusal to be vaccinated makes life more dangerous for everyone else. Given that about half of America has taken its medicine without notable consequence, isn’t it time to accept the facts?
In a saner world, Fiscus would be rehired soon with an apology and a contrite statement about a “misunderstanding.”
And those who lend legitimacy to the anti-vaccine cause on social media and flaky cable and radio programs would be face to face with unemployment.
– Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.