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

Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s fired vaccine chief, filed a federal defamation lawsuit on Thursday, alleging state officials skewed facts and misled the public as part of a coordinated campaign to destroy her reputation.

The backdrop: Fiscus was fired in July after facing criticism from Republican lawmakers over messaging to teenagers about the COVID-19 vaccine. A public battle ensued over Fiscus and her job performance.

State of play: Fiscus said someone sent her a dog muzzle shortly before she was fired. She said she viewed the muzzle as a threat to stop talking about vaccines.

  • An investigation by the Tennessee Department of Safety revealed that the dog muzzle was purchased using Fiscus' credit card. The investigation closed after agents said there was "no threat" toward Fiscus.
  • In the lawsuit, Fiscus’ attorneys said "unknown actors mailed the dog muzzle to Dr. Fiscus and did so in a strategic manner to make it seem as though Dr. Fiscus had ordered, paid for, and mailed the muzzle to herself, when she had not."

The latest: Fiscus included with her lawsuit a signed declaration, under penalty of perjury, that she did not send herself the muzzle and does not know who did.

  • The lawsuit revealed the new detail that the credit card used to purchase the muzzle in July had been canceled and reported lost more than a year before the controversy.
  • Fiscus said in the declaration that she was told by her credit card company that online merchants like Amazon are able to charge a canceled card if the card was previously used for recurring charges by the company.
  • Fiscus said the Department of Safety refuses to provide her attorneys with a fully unredacted version of the investigation report, including information like the IP address from which the muzzle was ordered.

The other side: The health department released a memo in July stating Fiscus was fired for poor interpersonal communication skills, ineffective management and attempting to steer state money to a nonprofit she founded.

  • In the suit, Fiscus’ team pushed back against the memo, saying it included "several false, stigmatizing, and defamatory statements" and that it was released "to stigmatize and defame" her.
  • The health department declined to comment on pending litigation, while the attorney general's office did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Of note: The Nashville police department launched an investigation into the muzzle after Fiscus filed a report last month. It was the police investigation that uncovered that Fiscus' credit card had been canceled.

  • The state investigation found that the Amazon account used to purchase the muzzle was created in March, well before Fiscus was at the center of the teenage vaccination controversy.

Sign up for the Axios Nashville newsletter, launching later this month, to get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in your own backyard.

Go deeper

Oct 21, 2021 - Health

Pediatric groups declare youth mental health crisis a national emergency

Kids attending school in Los Angeles, California. Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Three major pediatric health groups declared on Tuesday a national state of emergency in children's mental health.

The big picture: Rates of childhood mental health issues and suicide had been rising since 2010 but worsened significantly in the last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing social unrest around racial justice.

Oct 21, 2021 - Health

India crosses 1 billion COVID vaccinations milestone

A health worker inoculates a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a man wearing a face mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Beawar, India, in September. Photo: Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Thursday that the country's health workers have now administered more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines doses.

Of note: While this is a significant milestone for the country of 1.4 billion, which has been devastated by the coronavirus, only about 30% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, per AP. Roughly 75% have received at least one dose.

Hawaii invites fully vaccinated travelers to return from Nov. 1

Hawaii Gov. David Ige. Photo: Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) announced plans Wednesday to soon welcome back nonresidents to the island state who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for nonessential travel.

Why it matters: Hawaii's tourist-dependent labor market suffered one of the worst blows in the U.S. last year and the state's climb out of its pandemic-sized hole is moving slowly, Axios' Courtenay Brown notes.

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