Aug 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Probe finds evidence fired Tennessee vaccine official bought dog muzzle sent to her

Dr. Michelle Fiscus. Photo: William DeShazer for The Washington Post via Getty Images

A Tennessee investigation found evidence that the state's fired vaccine chief, Michelle Fiscus, purchased a dog muzzle that she previously claimed someone had mailed in an attempt to intimidate her.

Why it matters: Fiscus, who denied sending herself the muzzle in a Monday tweet, has characterized her firing as a political move driven by Republican state officials after she shared a memo citing state law about whether adolescents can seek medical care, including a COVID vaccine, without their parents' permission.

  • Fiscus and her husband, Brad, had said in multiple interviews, including with CNN's Anderson Cooper, that the muzzle was sent anonymously to her state office through Amazon shortly before her firing.
  • "Someone wanted to send a message to tell her to stop talking, they thought it would be a threat to her," Brad Fiscus told the Tennessean.

Details: The Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security found through a subpoena that the Amazon package containing the muzzle traced back to a credit card in Fiscus' name, according to an investigation report obtained by Axios.

  • When asked by investigators, Fiscus provided information for an Amazon account in her name. It was a different account than the one used to purchase the muzzle.
  • The investigation concluded that "the results of this investigation that purchases from both Amazon accounts were charged to the same American Express credit card in the name of Dr. Michelle D. Fiscus."
  • Fiscus told investigators she felt the muzzle was a threat and she should "stop talking about vaccinating people." The investigation was launched after health department official Paul Peterson alerted the Department of Safety about the apparent threat to Fiscus.

The backdrop: Fiscus was fired amid criticism from Republican lawmakers who were upset about the health department’s efforts to convince teenagers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Republican lawmakers criticized Fiscus on multiple fronts, highlighting a memo she sent explaining how providers in Tennessee could vaccinate some teenage patients without a parent's approval.
  • The health department released a memo last month stating Fiscus was fired for poor interpersonal communication skills, ineffective management and attempting to steer state money to a nonprofit she founded.
  • Fiscus denied the allegations in the memo and shared years of sterling performance evaluations. She claims she was fired for attempting to do her job well.

What they're saying: In a statement distributed by her husband, Fiscus said she was not aware of the report until Axios shared it.

  • "We have now learned that a second Amazon account had been established under my name using what appears to be a temporary phone, possibly in Washington state," Fiscus said.
  • "I have asked Homeland Security for the unredacted report so that I can investigate further and am awaiting their response," she added.
  • Fiscus did not discuss the use of the American Express card in her name.

Editor's note: The headline of this story has been updated to clarify the investigation's conclusion. It found evidence that Fiscus purchased the dog muzzle.

  • It also was updated to include a tweet and statement from Fiscus, both issued after the story’s initial publication.

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