Coronavirus. What coronavirus?

Tennessee state lawmakers announced that they were halting all outreach for the COVID-19 vaccine, and all vaccines in general, for adolescents.

This comes despite coronavirus infections rates tripling in the past three weeks, according to The Tennessean. Those on the inside believe that the state government felt pressured by Republicans and were told, according to internal reports and agency emails obtained by the publication, that any vaccine information distributed should not include the state department’s logo.

Tennessee Department of Health commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP, who allegedly has “long-term” plans that include running for office, said that everything is operating as normal at the agency.

“There has been no disruption to the childhood immunization program or access to the COVID-19 vaccine while the department has evaluated annual marketing efforts intended for parents,” said Piercey, in a statement. “The Tennessee Department of Health not only supports immunizations but continues to provide valuable information and access to parents who are seeking vaccinations for their children.”

According to COVID Act Now, an independent nonprofit that collects and publishes coronavirus data, Tennessee is a “severe risk” state based on their information.

The state has an infection rate of 1.42 per 1,000, which is considered critical. As per the COVID Act Now’s latest statistics, there have been 9.2 per 1,000 cases each day and a 7.9% positive testing rate. Davidson, Knox, Rutherford, Hamilton and Williamson counties have the highest infection rates in the state.

The state has reported having 2,409 staffed adult ICU beds with 1,568 filled by non-COVID patients and 131 filled by COVID patients. As of right now, 71% of ICU beds are filled.

Fewer than 44% of Tennessee residents have had at least one vaccine shot. Fewer than 39% are fully vaccinated.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is pleading for his fellow Tennesseans to get vaccinated as well.

Speaking at the “Rep. John Lewis: A Celebration of Life” event at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Gore said the campaign for less knowledge about the COVID vaccine had an ulterior motive.

“Here in Tennessee, we have work to do,” said Gore during his speech. “We got to vaccinate people in Tennessee. We got to vaccinate teenagers in Tennessee.

“Given the fact that the death rate from COVID-19 among Black Americans is three times as high, it is racist not to vaccinate people!” emphasized Gore.

There are 95 counties in the state of Tennessee. Six of them remain autonomous and don’t have to answer to the state when it comes to certain subjects, such as health initiatives: Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan counties. These places can carry on as normal with their health outreach, but the government has thrown a monkey wrench into their outreach collaborations with other counties that do have to answer to the state.

According to Tené Hamilton Franklin, chair of the Tennessee NAACP’s State Health Committee, most schools can’t do social distancing and districts are not requiring unvaccinated students to wear masks. This includes elementary students that aren’t eligible for the vaccine. 

Franklin also said that the organization—along with local ones—will continue to advocate with school boards and school leaders that all unvaccinated students wear masks in school settings, ask school boards and school leaders to champion COVID vaccine campaigns to parents and caregivers of students, and push for Primary Care and Pediatricians (PCP) to champion COVID vaccine messaging to parents and caregivers in the community.

“The NAACP have always been rooted in public health and health care,” said Franklin. “And the idea that you would remove the strategy? That just doesn’t make sense. We’re still forging ahead as much as we can with public health messaging targeting populations who most need the vaccine.”

“We have more autonomy,” continued Franklin. “We can keep up with our messages in the campaign, but we’re so integrated with the other counties around us that’s going to affect us. This is gonna affect the entire metro area and counties that report to the state of Tennessee.”

“We need to be on the same page, strategically,” said Hamilton.

At the Tennessee State Health Department website, there’s a PDF link to a COVID-19 vaccination plan. The plan was written March 8 and it’s still watermarked “DRAFT.”