Review of religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate

close up photo of a lined up covid vaccines

After President Joe Biden issued a mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine, many anti-vaxxers looked for religious exemptions so that they would not have to get the vaccine. Although no major religion is opposed to vaccines, people have used religious exemptions to avoid vaccinations in the past, it’s just become more serious these days with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

In the USA, people will use this as a “freedom of religion” cause, claiming that they have some constitutional right to avoid the COVID-19 vaccine with a religious exemption. This is a legal issue, which Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss has addressed these issues several times recently. Although I am not a legal expert, blanket religious exemptions can be rejected without worrying about violating someone’s freedom of religion.

In my previous article about religions and vaccines, it is clear that almost every mainstream religion, from almost all Christian sects to Judaism to Islam, shows unambiguous support of vaccines. And for completeness, I’m going to go through each of these religions and describe their support of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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A review of major religions and vaccines – almost all support vaccinations

religions and vaccines

This article, about major religions and vaccines, shows that many claims that vaccinations are against religion are not supported by actual religious dogma. As a result, several states, like New York, California, and Maine, have taken steps to limit and or eliminate religious exemptions to vaccines as a result of the abuse of the exemption.

A while ago, I wrote an article about a father who is suing the New York Department of Education to force a school to allow his unvaccinated son into school. The basis of his lawsuit is that vaccination is against his religious beliefs. 

The father is a Roman Catholic and claimed that his church was opposed to vaccines. As far as I could find, the Catholic Church strongly supports vaccines, with Pope Francis stating that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is an “act of love,” even making it a moral and ethical issue by clearly stating that “there would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious diseases…”

The Catholic Church even supports the use of those vaccines manufactured using permanent cell lines that derive from aborted fetuses. In other words, not only is the Catholic Church not opposed to vaccination, it seems to indicate that it would immoral to not vaccinate.

This all leads me to wonder if there was research into the relationship between religions and vaccines. Of course, researchers much smarter than this old dinosaur examined the issue – spoiler alert, religions broadly support vaccinations.

Continue reading “A review of major religions and vaccines – almost all support vaccinations”

COVID-19 vaccine survey of Americans – atheists love the vaccine

COVID-19 vaccine survey

A new survey of Americans showed that atheists are more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine than any other religious group (atheism isn’t really a religious group). It’s ironic that I consider the anti-vaccine beliefs check all of the boxes of the definition of a religion.

Despite my admittedly clickbait title, this survey showed some interesting results regarding American’s attitudes to the COVID-19 vaccine, including an improvement in the desire to get the vaccine by people of color. But what is troubling that the predicted uptake may not help us reach the herd immunity level to stop this pandemic.

Continue reading “COVID-19 vaccine survey of Americans – atheists love the vaccine”

COVID-19 vaccines employer mandates – legal basics for and against

COVID-19 vaccines employer mandates

This article about COVID-19 vaccines employer mandates was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

The goal of this post is to give a short overview of the law surrounding employer mandates for COVID-19 vaccines. Two caveats. First, this post is not taking a position on whether a mandate is a good or bad idea for a specific employer: it is just setting out the law. Second, this post is focused on employers choosing to require vaccines, not states.

As preliminary comments, I want to remind readers that we do not actually know whether COVID-19 vaccines will dramatically reduce transmission. We know they are very effective at protecting recipients (and very safe), and we have reasonable grounds to expect they will reduce transmission somewhat, but we do not yet know to what extent. 

A workplace or employer mandate is, in part, justified by protecting the workforce – employers are expected, sometimes required, to minimize risks to their workers, and may be liable for work-related harms through workers’ compensation, but mandates are often justified by the protection of others – in this case, co-workers and customers – and if the vaccines do not reduce transmission, there is less justification.

We also do not yet know how long the COVID-19 vaccines’ immunity will last, and whether there are very rare side effects that have not yet been discovered. So this discussion has some uncertainty built-in. That uncertainty, however, would not directly change much of the legal framework described below.

Continue reading “COVID-19 vaccines employer mandates – legal basics for and against”

Atheists support vaccines – well, most Americans support MMR vaccine

atheists support vaccines

A new survey of Americans showed that they are overwhelmingly in favor of vaccines across all demographic groups. But atheists support vaccines more than any other religious designation.

Of course, this article isn’t really about how much atheists support vaccines, although that should be expected, given the fact that most atheists follow evidence rather than faith or beliefs. This article is going to review the detailed survey because if you’re anyone but Del Bigtree or Robert F Kennedy Jr, you’ll be fascinated to know that the vast majority of Americans support the MMR vaccine. Continue reading “Atheists support vaccines – well, most Americans support MMR vaccine”

Religion and vaccines – current religious dogma about vaccinations review

religion and vaccines

This article, about religion and vaccines, shows that claims that religion is opposed to vaccinations are bogus. Recently, several states, like New York and Maine, have taken steps to limit and or eliminate religious exemptions to vaccines as a result of the abuse of the exemption.

A while ago, I wrote an article about a father who is suing the New York Department of Education to force a school to allow his unvaccinated son into school. The basis of his lawsuit is that vaccination is against his religious beliefs. 

The father is a Roman Catholic and claimed that his church was opposed to vaccines. As far as I could find, the Catholic Church strongly supports vaccines, even making it a moral and ethical issue by clearly stating that “there would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious diseases…”

The Catholic Church even supports the use of those vaccines manufactured using permanent cell lines that derive from aborted fetuses. In other words, not only is the Catholic Church not opposed to vaccination, it seems to indicate that it would immoral to not vaccinate.

This all leads me to wonder if there was research into the relationship between religion and vaccines. Of course, researchers much smarter than this old dinosaur examined the issue – spoiler alert, religions broadly support vaccinations.

Continue reading “Religion and vaccines – current religious dogma about vaccinations review”

Court upholds policy denying religious exemptions to vaccines

religious exemptions

In 2014, the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of New York rejected a claim brought by three plaintiff families against various aspects of New York’s school immunization requirements. The decision did not include any legal innovation: it was completely based on well-established precedent that schools can deny religious exemptions. But it offers a chance to reflect on what that precedent is, why it is in place, and what it means for us.

The take-home point? Our immunization jurisprudence gives states substantial leeway to protect the public health via vaccination requirements, specifically, in this context, by allowing states to decide whether, and under what conditions, to exempt students from school immunization requirements. But states have to actually use that power to achieve anything. By leaving the floor to the passionate, if passionately wrong, anti-vaccine minority, we are allowing them to undermine the right of the rest of us to be free from preventable diseases.

In other words, those who vaccinate need to speak up and make it clear to their elected representatives that they want state law to protect their children – and the community – against outbreaks of preventable diseases. The laws will not enact themselves, and our representatives need to know the public wants this protection, that the public does not want high rates of measles cases or other diseases.

Just like the diseases, anti-vaccine legislative successes, such as maintaining religious exemptions, are preventable. And just like the diseases, doing nothing won’t prevent them. Continue reading “Court upholds policy denying religious exemptions to vaccines”

Why do I call it the “anti-vaccine religion”? Let me explain

anti-vaccine religion

A few months ago, I started characterizing the anti-vaxxer fanatics as being members of the “anti-vaccine religion.” It wasn’t an important point to me, because as I constantly stress, the only thing that matters is scientific evidence – the vast bulk of which supports the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

In fact, I know a lot of pro-vaccine people, many of whom are leaders in pointing out the flaws of the anti-vaccine religion, are themselves religious. I am an atheist, but I do not decide who are my friends on social media or real life, based on their religious beliefs. Since almost every major religion in the world supports vaccination, and in almost every case, strongly so,  it’s clear that organized religion and vaccines are not in conflict.

For me, “anti-vaccine religion” was a throwaway line almost tongue-in-cheek, because, from my standpoint, the group acts as if it were a religious cult. In fact, some people I know, who loathe the anti-vaccine zealots, do classify them as a cult. Anyway, of all the things I represent, my obvious pejorative use of religion ranked near the bottom of my “care” list.

Then, this:

Now that Daniel Goldman has thrown down the gauntlet, I guess I’m going to have to fully explain my impeccable (or not) logic. Because from any perspective, the anti-vaccine religion functions like a religion, in some ways, an organized one. Let me explain. Continue reading “Why do I call it the “anti-vaccine religion”? Let me explain”

Healthcare worker flu vaccination – examining lawsuits about the vaccine

flu vaccination

On March 6, 2018, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in a federal district court against Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. The Department was suing on behalf of Barnell Williams, a certified nursing assistant in Lasata Care Center, a nursing home, who was claiming emotional distress from being forced to get a flu vaccination for work when getting one contradicted her religious beliefs.

This is not the first lawsuit brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the issue of the flu vaccination for healthcare workers, the claims are not new, and the lawsuit seems well founded. I was not going to write about it because there really is nothing new there, but following several news articles on the topic (here and here), people had questions about it, so this is a short post addressing legal issues surrounding flu vaccination.

This article will list a few key points that are important considerations Continue reading “Healthcare worker flu vaccination – examining lawsuits about the vaccine”

Mississippi vaccine exemption – no religion allowed

mississippi vaccine exemption

Mississippi is not exactly one of the USA’s highest ranked states for health issues. The state ranks 47th in public health. It ranks 47th in smoking. It ranks 47th in health care quality. At least it’s consistent! Other surveys put Mississippi dead last in healthcare qualitative measurements. Ironically, there’s one health care issue where the state does well – the lack of a Mississippi vaccine exemption for religion has been critical to the state having the highest vaccine uptake rate in the country.

This anomaly has got to be one of the most interesting stories in the vaccine world – the state’s vaccine uptake rates (see Note 1) for MMR (for measles, mumps and rubella), DTaP (for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough), and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines exceed 99.4%. This number far is far beyond the level necessary for the herd effect to protect all individuals in an area. All thanks to a lack of a Mississippi vaccine exemption for religious beliefs.

The high vaccine uptake rate breaks the irony meter for one other reason – Mississippi is one of the country’s most religious states. And the fact that the state does not allow religious exemptions for vaccination of young children seems like it is out of character for the state. Mississippi is one of only three states that disallow religious exemptions to vaccines (California and West Virginia being the other two). And the Mississippi vaccine exemption rules rely upon a simple piece of jurisprudence – parental duties trump parental rights.

As a result of this important concept, Mississippi vaccine exemption rules do not allow for a religious exemption. I know, it is difficult to wrap your mind around Mississippi in this story. But let’s find out why the state has led the way on stopping religious exemptions.

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