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Who Is Exempt From COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate? Deadlines Approach

Kathryn Underwood - Author

Sep. 21 2021, Published 2:05 p.m. ET

Following President Joe Biden’s sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandate announcement, many individuals have been searching for a way out of getting the shot. Religious beliefs have been commonly used to secure an exemption from mandatory vaccines in the past, and that scenario is playing out again with COVID-19 vaccines.

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Employers across the U.S. must now deal with, in some cases, extremely high numbers of employees who are resistant to being vaccinated. The Biden administration maintains that these mandates are necessary to curb the continuing spread of COVID-19, while many Americans say that it's an issue of personal freedom.

Religious exemptions from vaccinations

The new vaccine mandates impact about 100 million Americans. Approximately 80 percent of those will have the option of either getting a COVID-19 vaccine or submitting to weekly testing as a condition of employment. Millions of healthcare workers must get vaccinated without a weekly testing alternative.

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As The New York Times reported, thousands of workers in multiple states have already started searching for a way out. Many times, they cite religious grounds as their reason for objection.

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Some people claim that they shouldn't be forced to get vaccinated with vaccines using cell lines from aborted fetuses. However, the Vatican and the Pope (leaders of the Catholic Church) have endorsed getting vaccinated against the virus.

The basis for religious exemptions is the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which dictates that employers offer exemptions to employees for certain work policies for “sincerely held” religious beliefs. However, “religion” is often broadly defined and difficult to quantify.

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People seeking to avoid the COVID vaccine through religious exemption can't do so based on political or social beliefs, which is a fine line that employers must now attempt to distinguish.

The New York Times reported that most established religious traditions support vaccination efforts. However, many individuals are cobbling together information and misinformation from various online sources and conservative media rather than from actual religious teachings. They are using them in an attempt to secure an exemption.

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According to APNews, some of the people protesting have actually received the shots. Oklahoma pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, for example, said, “We’re not anti-vaxxers. We’re just pro-freedom.” Also a Senate candidate, Lahmeyer is offering his own signature on an exemption form for those who join his church and make a donation.

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Medical exemptions

Medical experts say that there are very few people with medical reasons not to get vaccinated, according to ABCNews. Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said there aren't any immediate health concerns or side effects from any of the vaccines for most people.

The main medical reason to avoid the shot, other than being too young for the vaccine, is a severe allergic reaction to the first dose, which is rare.

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Employers with vaccine mandates

Some larger employers are taking a firm stance on adherence to the vaccine mandate, including United Airlines. While some employees will be granted religious exemptions, they will be placed on unpaid leave as of Oct. 2 until the company is able to implement new coronavirus testing protocols.

Some companies implemented a vaccine mandate before Biden’s announcement, often just after the FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Some of the companies that have a vaccine requirement that isn't connected to Biden's mandate are BlackRock, Anthem, Cisco, Citigroup, Google, Goldman Sachs, and McDonald’s.


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