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State investigation finds fired Tennessee vaccine official mailed dog muzzle to self

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 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.

The other side: Brad Fiscus, who has handled media inquiries for his wife, told Axios he was surprised by the findings. He asked to review the report before commenting further.

  • Fiscus has also requested a name-clearing hearing from the health department in an effort to refute the stated reasons for her firing.

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

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