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Front Page - Friday, July 9, 2021

Rogers column: TN Health officials have some nerve doing their jobs

A Tennessee legislator has accused the Tennessee Department of Health of “targeting” young people and threatened the agency with the prospect of being “dissolved and reconstituted.”

Given that the department’s stated mission is “To protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee,” you might think that targeting young people – targeting anyone – is a good thing.

We’re pro-health and prosperity, right?

Not exactly. Some people have the happy ability to look at a problem and create a solution. Many members of the Tennessee legislature have the perverse ability to look at a solution and create a problem.

And so it was at a recent meeting of the Joint Government Operations Committee, during which members skewered the health commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, for doing her job.

The department’s offense, in their minds: Making it known that children 12 and older are now eligible for a COVID vaccine.

Specifically, they accused the department and its leadership of using the “mature minor” doctrine, which allows medical treatments for some young people without parental consent, to circumvent parental authority.

Has this been a major problem? No. Piercey told the committee that in a survey of the department’s 89 vaccine sites across the state, only eight young people had been vaccinated without their parents present.

Five had shown up for some other reason, were offered the vaccine and took it, she said.

The three others were her own children.

“I think there is a sense that we’re hiding in dark alleys and whispering to kids, ‘Hey, come get vaccinated,’” she said. “We’re not. We’re not doing that.”

Her chief critic was Rep. Scott Cepicky, who dangled a health department vaccine promo with a photo of a young girl as proof that the department was “targeting our youth for vaccinations right now.”

“Personally, I think it’s reprehensible that we would do that to our youth in Tennessee,” he said.

It was Cepicky who made a motion that health officials be called back before the committee July 21 “for consideration for the dissolving and reconstitution of the department of health.”

At the request of other committee members, he revised the motion to remove that language, but his point had already been made.

You can bet the health officials heard it.

Sen. Kerry Roberts lifted the curtain on the larger issue for legislators. He implored Piercey to “stop marketing to children,” but soon made it clear his beef went beyond just that.

Department officials need to “ask the question, What is the role of the Department of Health in Tennessee? Is it to meddle in the lives of other people or is it to be a resource?”

Allow me to interpret Roberts’s message: Stay in your lane, health officials. Leave the meddling to legislators, even when it comes to health matters.

And meddle they do. None of the flak Piercey took can be a surprise to anyone who followed General Assembly efforts related to COVID over the past two years. Much legislative time was devoted to stopping any attempt to promote masks, vaccines or any other sensible steps to combat COVID, under the general guise of safeguarding personal freedom.

That attitude was certainly in evidence at the joint committee meeting.

Sen. Janice Bowling, who has made her suspicion of the COVID vaccines clear, called it “shocking” that health officials would offer them to young people and renewed her support of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as viable alternatives.

Note here: Piercey, who is a pediatrician, pointed out earlier that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the vaccine for those 12 and older.

Rep. Justin Lafferty questioned Piercey over the effectiveness of immunity provided by the vaccine versus that provided by having had the virus – as if contracting the virus were a viable approach to staving it off.

Sen. Mark Pody falsely claimed the vaccine “hasn’t even been fully examined” and noted that roughly 60% of Tennesseans have avoided it.

Here’s what they didn’t bring up: Data reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that 99.5% of the people nationwide who died from COVID-19 over the past six months were unvaccinated.

Need I point out that all this negative response came from Republicans? People who live by the fundamental Reagan concept that government is bad. And who prove it true.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com