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  • Writer's pictureSociety of Bioethics and Medicine

I Can't Get Vaccinated, it's Against My Religion

Written by: Ishraq Nihal

Edited by Marium Ghobriel

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on in the wake of the highly contagious delta variant, a renewed sense of urgency has prompted schools and businesses all over the country to invoke a vaccine mandate. President Biden himself has recently required federal workers to be vaccinated, as well as companies with more than 100 employees, both decisions of which were met with both approval and open hostility. As vaccination rates are declining, vaccine mandates are being issued to forcefully increase these numbers, as it is believed that the COVID-19 pandemic will come to an end if the vast majority of the population is vaccinated. Some do not see the need to receive the vaccine if they had previously been infected with COVID-19, as natural antibodies have been proven to be superior to the vaccine. Others are steadfast in their anti-vaccine beliefs, regardless of their proven safety and efficacy (being FDA-approved). Those who are hesitant to take the vaccine are looking to bypass the mandate by looking into religious and/or medical exemptions. While it is difficult to obtain a medical exemption for the vaccine, the ambiguous nature of the religious exemption provides an alternative that some are looking to take advantage of.

Now, the religious exemption to the vaccine may be invoked with ulterior motives, but it may also be sincere. After all, the religious exemption exists for a reason, but the difficulty comes in distinguishing when it truly is sincere. While the history of the religious exemption is muddy and complicated, the exemption can be traced back to 1966, when a law was proposed in New York requiring children to get vaccinated in order to attend school. This proposed law received heavy backlash, and the religious exemption was added to appease dissenters, such as the vocal Christian Science community. Lawmakers around the country followed in the law’s suit, and the religious exemption became a common accompaniment to such laws (WBEZ). Perhaps the religious intention to avoid the vaccine had honest roots, but it is severely doubtful that the same can be said today. In fact, religious scholars across various faiths have said there is nothing that would directly prohibit adherents from receiving a vaccine (WBEZ). Pope Francis himself has encouraged people to receive the vaccine. The normalization of the religious exemption in law however, have had disastrous consequences. In 2015, there was an outbreak of measles in children in California that was believed to have been caused by parents abusing the exemption to avoid getting their children vaccinated for measles. California as a result removed religious exemption from its school code, and a couple of other states did as well.

Removing the religious exemption, however, apparently does very little. Those who are against the vaccine simply find other loopholes. For example, it was found that after California removed their religious exemption to the vaccine, the vaccination rates among children stayed roughly the same. Some resorted to medical exemptions, and others looked to some form of home-schooling. It seems as though those who are against the vaccine will do anything to avoid taking it. As we see today, many are even prepared to lose their jobs. While it is clear that the religious exemption is and was largely politically motivated, the question of vaccine efficacy and safety itself has now become political. It paints a grim picture for the future of public safety. People should be receiving the vaccine of their own volition for their own safety and for the safety of society. While it is perfectly fine to question the vaccine, we must ultimately trust the science and let it guide our decisions. It is a shame that mandates are needed to force people to get vaccinated. However, as things are, it is a step in the right direction, and I hope it will be effective.


Meriwether, Andrew. “The Complicated History of Religious Exemptions to Vaccines.” WBEZ Chicago, WBEZ Chicago, 22 Sept. 2021,

Wamsley, Laurel. “Judging 'Sincerely Held' Religious Belief Is Tricky for Employers Mandating Vaccines.” NPR, NPR, 4 Oct. 2021,


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