Health system warns COVID vaccine exemptions could expire with new options

Wisconsin’s Froedtert Health Network has sent a clear message to employees demanding religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination: With an alternative to mRNA vaccines now available, get vaccinated or quit.

In an email to a Froedtert staffer obtained by WTMJ-TVThe Health Network’s COVID-19 Vaccine Religious Exemption Review Panel wrote, “Your original exemption request and additional documents you provided do not meet the criteria for explaining your sincere religious belief. which conflicts with receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, including the new Novavax vaccine.”

The religious exemption will not be upheld, despite additional comments provided “regarding opinions or non-factual information”, the committee added. If the staff member does not receive a first dose by September 21, they will be “considered a voluntary resigner”.

The decision by Froedtert, who is affiliated with the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, signals a blow to workplace vaccine holders, including health care providers, who have argued that their religion prevents them from to get vaccinated.

While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA-based, Novavax is protein-based. Those who have sought religious exemptions from their work or school policies have often cited the use of fetal material in mRNA vaccines or in their development, although neither Novavax nor the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain tissue or DNA. fetal. However, laboratory-replicated fetal cell lines, some from abortions decades ago, have been reported to be used in mRNA vaccine testing.

Dorit Reiss, PhD, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco who has researched religious vaccine exemptions, said MedPage today it was only a matter of time before some employers, including hospitals, began enforcing vaccination policies after Novavax was approved for use in August.

“I’ve already said publicly that I think Novavax is changing the game when it comes to cell line arguments,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve heard of an employer actually getting into it.”

A statement emailed from Froedtert to MedPage today stated, in part, “This protein-based vaccination option eliminates conflicts for personnel with religious or medical exemptions caused by mRNA-based vaccines and other concerns. Since these personnel staff are now eligible for a vaccination that does not conflict with their religious beliefs or medical circumstances, their exemption will expire.”

The health network said the rule will affect less than 1% of its staff and that “affected employees” were given the opportunity to request another exemption before the expiry of the previous ones, noting that they will respect “the medical exemptions valid and sincere religious exemptions”. .”

Reiss said that of the many allegations of safeguarding religious exemptions she has encountered, the fetal cell lineage argument was perhaps the most common, in part because it could curry favor with pro judges. -life. “If they can piggyback on the abortion debate, they have a better chance of winning” in a dispute, she said. But other reasons, such as the claim that some religions require blood to be free from contamination, have also been cited.

Some vocal opponents of the vaccine requirements may have anticipated the post-Novavax repercussions and urged their supporters to use other reasons to buttress their religious objections, Reiss said.

For example, Cait Corrigan, a Boston University theology student behind a group called Students Against Mandates, posted an overview online on the group’s website with tips for “successful” religious exemption letters. writing: “Note that you can write about aborted fetal tissue. . but that is not enough! (We must talk about the question of Blood in vaccines, be made in the Image of God, etc.)” (MedPage today could not confirm if Corrigan is still a student at Boston University.)

But neither those types of arguments nor religious beliefs are likely to hold up in most courts, according to Reiss and other experts. “The standard for workplace vaccination mandates is that you can refuse an exemption if it’s an undue burden, like the burden of not having vaccinated employees in a hospital,” she said.

And while the objections to the vaccination itself may be sincere, “most of them I think are about safety issues, many of which are created by misinformation,” Reiss noted. “For most of them, religion is a cover for this concern.”

  • Sophie Putka is a business and investigative writer for MedPage Today. His work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Discover, Business Insider, Inverse, Cannabis Wire, and more. She joined MedPage Today in August 2021. Follow

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