211 7th Avenue N, Ste. 100

Nashville, TN 37219

Phone: (615) 255-0331 Fax: (615) 255-0354


July 14, 2021


Michele Johnson

Executive Director

(615) 417-1492

Statement Re: Firing of state immunization chief and abandonment of vaccination outreach to children

Tennessee legislators’ crackdown on public health officials for encouraging the vaccination of the state’s children could undermine compliance with federal law and jeopardize over $8 billion in federal Medicaid funding for the TennCare program.  Federal law requires states to screen and provide all necessary treatment to every child enrolled in Medicaid, including a requirement to administer all “appropriate immunizations (according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices).” TennCare’s failure to comply with the law led to a lawsuit that cost the state millions. It took 15 years before the federal courts ruled in 2013 that the state was finally in compliance with the law.

Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center and lead attorney for the children in that lawsuit, said that attacks on state officials for encouraging the vaccination of children “threaten to make a bad situation worse.” Johnson said, “We are always on the lookout for evidence of backsliding. We are concerned that the state’s own data shows that TennCare ranks near the bottom of all Medicaid programs in immunization rates. TennCare covers half of all children in Tennessee, so the program’s success is enormously important for the health of our state.”

About the Tennessee Justice Center

The Tennessee Justice Center (TJC) is a non-profit public interest law and advocacy firm serving families in Tennessee. It gives priority to policy issues and civil cases in which the most basic necessities of life are at stake and where advocacy can benefit vulnerable families statewide. TJC works to empower its clients by holding government accountable for its policies and actions.