Tenn. vaccine expert rips state lawmakers after her dismissal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Across the country, public health officials have left their jobs, strained by a pandemic unlike anything they had confronted before, then tested further as the coronavirus and vaccines became entangled in politics and disinformation.
In Tennessee, the state’s top immunization official, Michelle Fiscus, said this week that she was forced from her job after writing a memo describing a 34-year-old legal doctrine that suggested that some teenagers might get vaccines without their parents’ permission. Fiscus’ memo came as conservative lawmakers in the state were lashing out at efforts by her agency to raise awareness of vaccines among teenagers.
One Republican lawmaker, Scott Cepicky, accused the agency of employing “peer pressure” to prod young people into getting immunized.
In a searing statement describing her departure, Fiscus said the actions of lawmakers have gravely endangered the public by undermining confidence in the vaccines even as virus cases are rising in Tennessee and as concerns about the delta variant are emerging in parts of the country.
A spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Health declined Tuesday to comment on the dismissal of Fiscus, the agency’s medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs, saying the agency could not discuss personnel matters.
Tennessee is among the states where the virus has gained ground as vaccination efforts have sputtered, leaving public health officials to grapple with the political resistance and false information about the safety of the shots.
In the past two weeks, the number of newly reported cases has climbed, with a statewide average of more than 460 cases daily, according to a New York Times database. Yet the vaccination rate has stalled; about 43% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, lagging behind a national rate of 56%.
QAnon believer freed: A federal judge agreed Tuesday to free an Iowa man from jail more than six months after his videotaped confrontation of a police officer inside the U.S. Capitol became one of the most menacing images of the Jan. 6 riots.
Douglas Jensen, 41, was wearing a T-shirt bearing the letter “Q,” a symbol of the QAnon conspiracy theory, when he joined the mob that approached Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman inside the building and followed the officer up two flights of stairs.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly said deciding whether to free Jensen from jail pending trial was a “close case,” but he ultimately agreed to release the Des Moines resident on house arrest with electronic location monitoring. The judge also barred him from accessing the internet on any electronic devices.
The judge noted that Jensen is not accused of toppling any barricades, damaging any property or fighting with anybody at the Capitol.
First lady at Olympics: First lady Jill Biden will attend the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the White House announced Tuesday, even as the city has entered a new state of emergency over a rise in coronavirus cases.
Biden will attend the opening ceremony July 23 without President Joe Biden. It will be her first solo trip abroad as first lady.
The last time she attended the Games was in 2010, when she and her husband led the U.S. delegation to the Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada.
This year’s events will be held with no fans in the stands, after a COVID-19 state of emergency was declared in Tokyo.
President Joe Biden is nominating West Virginia’s former health commissioner as the nation’s top anti-drug official, tapping a doctor who served on the front lines of the nation’s opioid epidemic.
The White House said Tuesday that Dr. Rahul Gupta will be the first physician to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, also known as the drug czar.
Gupta most recently served as the chief medical and health officer at March of Dimes.
Drug czar nomination:
Afghan peace talks: A high-powered Afghan government delegation, which will include the head of the country’s reconciliation council, is to meet the Taliban in Doha to jumpstart a long-stalled peace process, two Afghan officials said Tuesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Taliban were expected to bring their senior leaders to the table when the two sides meet, possibly Friday. The Taliban maintain a political office in the Qatar capital of Doha.
The latest attempt to revitalize peace talks comes as the U.S. all but winds up its “forever war” in Afghanistan. The development comes after outgoing U.S. commander Gen. Scott Miller warned that increasing violence seriously hurts Afghanistan’s chances of finding a peaceful end to decades of war.
It a also comes as Taliban fighters surge through district after district taking control of large swaths of the country.
Rioting in S. Africa: The death toll climbed to 72 from rioting in South Africa on Tuesday, with many people trampled to death during looting at stores, as police and the military fired stun grenades and rubber bullets to try to halt the unrest set off by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.
More than 1,200 people have been arrested in the lawlessness that has raged in poor areas of two provinces.
Many of the deaths in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces occurred in chaotic stampedes as thousands of people stole food, electric appliances, liquor and clothing from stores, police Maj. Gen. Mathapelo Peters said Tuesday night.
The violence broke out after Zuma began serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court last week.
Vaccinations in France:
About 1.3 million people in France made vaccine appointments in less than a day, according to figures released Tuesday, after President Emmanuel Macron cranked up pressure on everyone to get vaccinated to save the summer vacation season and the French economy.
Macron also announced that special COVID-19 passes will be required starting in early August to enter restaurants and shopping malls and to get on trains and planes.
It was a daily record since France rolled out coronavirus vaccines in December.
Macron said vaccination would be obligatory for all health care workers by Sept. 15, and he held out the possibility of extending the requirement to others. Around 41% of the French population has been fully vaccinated.