Dr Michelle Fiscus worked in the health sector for almost 20 年, most recently as Tennessee’s top vaccine official. Until the day she was fired, she got excellent job performance reviews. And then one day she sent out a reminder that in Tennessee, children over the age of 14 may choose to be vaccinated without asking their parents first.
And she lost her job.
Now Fiscus, whose fate was seized upon as an example of the costs of speaking up for vaccines in a deeply red state, is strongly backing Joe Biden’s recent defense of vaccine mandates – something that has prompted howls of outrage from many conservatives but which Fiscus believes will save lives.
Fiscus, who was fired in July, said the mandates make a lot of sense, and there’s a long precedent for creating rules to protect both our health and the health of those around us. 实际上, vaccination mandates have been around since the US was founded.
“I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do,” Fiscus told the Guardian. It was “the right decision, and this will be on the right side of history”.
She compared it to requirements to wear seatbelts, use car seats and drive sober. “There were a lot of people that were doing those things without laws, but there were a lot of people that still refused to do them even though the science was very clear that those were activities that were in the best interest of the good of the public. So now we have laws.”
Public health officials, who before the pandemic generally worked in quiet obscurity, have faced violence and threats on their lives and livelihoods even as they work long hours for months on end. Some have resigned to protect themselves. Some, like Fiscus, have been removed from their jobs. By her count, 40% of state and territorial health officials have left or been pushed out during the pandemic. Others continue working, but they keep as low a profile as possible.
Fiscus has watched the attacks on Biden’s new stance with disappointment. Tennessee’s governor, Bill Lee, joined others in immediately responding negatively to vaccine mandates, calling them a “terrible idea” and a “power grab”.
The mandates around vaccines and testing have “come under a lot of attack, by the GOP primarily, but really, this is what needs to be done”, Fiscus said. “When you have a pandemic that is out of control, and you have a safe and effective mitigation strategy to stop that pandemic, and you have a population that is unwilling to do the right thing to get it to stop – it does take a leader to make some hard decisions about how that’s going to be handled.”
She believes the vaccination mandate will increase inoculation rates, especially in places like 田纳西州, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. “There’s very good data to show that if you put in requirements like this, people will comply with it,“ 她说. When California abolished philosophical exemptions from childhood vaccines, she pointed out, vaccination rates climbed.
Answering questions about vaccines’ safety and efficacy was also “critically important”, 她说. “There are lots of people who opt into getting regular, routine vaccinations who are still holding out on Covid [疫苗], and it’s because they’re scared.”
Fiscus, a pediatrician who serves on the board of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that pediatricians have decades of valuable experience addressing questions about vaccines’ safety and efficacy. “We can dispel the myths and the misinformation that they might have.”
Fiscus is measured when she speaks about her firing. When asked about what happened to her in July, she said carefully: “We’re still trying to figure out how all of this happened.”
The state contends that she was let go because of her performance, unrelated to a memo she sent outlining Tennessee law on vaccinating minors.
Fiscus said she was just doing her job, which was informing the public about vaccines. And she points out the laws still on the books in Tennessee state that children over the age of 14 are allowed to decide if they want to get vaccinated.
“My firing changed nothing,“ 她说.
然后, there’s the muzzle. Fiscus said she received a muzzle in the mail days before she was fired. The state closed its investigation 在八月, saying the muzzle was bought through an Amazon account under Fiscus’s name – strongly implying that she sent the package to herself.
But Fiscus said it was an additional account created by someone else, fraudulently using her credit card with an incorrect billing address and an out-of-state phone number. An investigator with the Nashville police fraud unit “already uncovered some details that were omitted from the state’s investigation”, 她说, and the case is still evolving.
Fiscus and her husband have lived in Tennessee for 24 年. It’s where they raised their children; her husband is on the Williamson county school board. They loved their town. But now, 她说, “we have watched this community devolve into something that we don’t recognize.”
现在, she wonders who sent her that muzzle. Public health officials who have been harassed and threatened can’t help but view their neighbors in a new light. Was it someone she might bump into at the grocery store? Someone who might confront her husband outside his school board meetings?
But Fiscus isn’t giving up. “I desperately want to go back into public health. I won’t be doing it in Tennessee,” she said wryly. But in two weeks, she’ll move to the Washington DC, area in the hope of continuing to shape health policy.
She is ready for a new start. But that new life will, paradoxically, involve much of the same: continuing to advocate for proven ways to end the pandemic and protect our lives and wellbeing – including measures like vaccination mandates.
“We have a runaway train of a pandemic. We have a tool to stop it,” Fiscus said. “People have got to be part of that solution.”