The truth about COVID-19 vaccine exemptions

The truth about COVID-19 vaccine exemptions
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Medical and religious exemptions are front and center as President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate takes effect, affecting over 100 million public and private sector workers.

People hoping to avoid vaccination are taking drastic steps to avoid vaccination. Two-thirds of people refusing to get vaccinated are even willing to quit their job to avoid vaccination

Society standards deem vaccine exemptions based on religion or medical conditions as acceptable. Yet, a closer look at them indicates that they lack substance and sinew. 

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At its core, religious practices are based on the development of faith coupled with spiritual principles for living. As such, any organized religion would need to have well-defined, written doctrine prohibiting vaccination. To date, no such doctrine has been identified.

The Roman Catholic Church has come forward indicating support for its followers to be vaccinated, with Pope FrancisPope FrancisReligion and the G-20: With faith, we can move mountains The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle Biden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit MORE calling it an “act of love.” If there were any scriptural-based contraindication to vaccination, the church would have certainly offered such information.

Medical conditions that preclude vaccination have also been difficult to identify. If they were prevalent, medical societies like the American College of Physicians or the American Medical Association would have reported them, with social media communicating such findings. To date, none have been forthcoming that impact a substantial number of people. 

pastor in Oklahoma has offered to provide a letter of exemption for anyone, in exchange for joining his church and a modest donation. The pastor is also seeking the Republican Party nomination for the Oklahoma 2022 U.S. Senate seat.

This begs the question, is religious doctrine or political belief the foundation of such an exemption offer? Is this akin to a car enthusiast signing an exemption for a vehicle to undergo a safety inspection because the car owner does not like the methods employed during the inspection? 

Individuals who wish to avoid vaccination are seeking a socially acceptable way to traverse the perceived perils of vaccination. They want to keep their jobs and their lifestyles while avoiding vaccination, which is becoming increasingly more difficult.

For example, United Airlines offered financial incentives to get their employees vaccinated, while being fully prepared to place several hundred unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave. Kaiser Permanente health care system placed over 2,200 unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave. If a medical giant is demonstrating zero tolerance for those who remain unvaccinated, perhaps this a message worth hearing.

Using one’s freedom to worship or medical issues, those who steadfastly want to avoid vaccination wish to create a barrier between themselves and vaccination. They want what they perceive to be vaccine zealots to mind their your own business, which is not possible during a pandemic that has impacted lives and livelihoods on a global scale.

To appreciate why people do not want to be vaccinated requires one to look at unifying characteristics and beliefs that pervade this group. 

Kaiser Family Foundation polls indicate that those who are staunchly unwilling to be vaccinated tend to have less formal education, are politically right-leaning and have lower incomes compared to those who have been vaccinated. No matter what reason given by those refusing to get vaccinated, they share common general beliefs and socioeconomic status.

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If such a group is to change their stance and develop the necessary trust in the vaccines, it must come from people within their communities that they trust. Top-down mandates that force them to do something against their will effectively widens the chasm between them and those who support vaccination for all. 

For some, this means pastors in their church. For others, it could be their town mayor, city council members, business owners or other respected community members. 

By design, mandates of any kind are distasteful, demeaning and repulsive. Regrettably, under the current circumstances, they are necessary. But their necessity does not change the feeling that they leave with those who do not wish to be forced to do something against their will. 

Let’s call vaccine exemptions what they are, personal and political, an outgrowth in a lack of trust in big government. We need to stop playing word games that obfuscate the rationale behind them. Once we acknowledge the foundation for such exemptions, perhaps we can move forward and build much-needed bridges, rather than continue to erect insurmountable barriers.

Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D., is a founder professor of Computer Science and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He applies his expertise in data-driven risk-based decision-making to evaluate and inform public health policy.