Lehigh’s COVID-19 vaccine exemption process
Students, faculty, and staff have two options for obtaining exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate: claiming either religious or medical incompatibility. After the documents have been made available and the committee has examined it, the application is either approved or rejected.
Corresponding Lehigh’s COVID-19 Dashboard, As of September 1, 3.4 percent of students, including PhD and undergraduate students, have submitted exemptions for review.
Lori Friedman, Lehigh Media Director, spoke with The browns and whites via email about vaccine requirements.
Political and social debates around the vaccine and its credibility were held at every stage of the pandemic. Social or political beliefs are no exception at Lehigh, Friedman said.
If a student is not vaccinated without exception, they will be banned from enrollment in Lehigh, Friedman said. Unvaccinated faculty and staff cannot enter campus buildings without an approved exception, she said.
Individuals with approved exemptions must undergo surveillance tests, perform daily self-assessments, and be quarantined if identified as close contact for a positive case, Friedman said.
Medical exemption requests are being considered by the Health and Wellness Center, Freidman said. Individuals must provide a letter from their treating healthcare provider documenting the reason for the exemption.
Kevin Vrablik, MD, MPH, Lehigh Valley Health Network chief of occupational medicine said if someone has an allergy to any ingredient in the vaccine or an allergy to the vaccine itself after receiving it, those circumstances could trigger a medical exception.
He said these cases are rare.
“Here on the network, I was able to count on one hand how many people we know are actually allergic to the ingredients of the vaccine or to the vaccine itself,” said Vrablik.
Those demonstrating religious beliefs against the vaccination were also required to provide a personal statement, including any evidence of their beliefs, indicating whether any other school-mandated vaccinations violated their religious beliefs or were only for the COVID-19 vaccine, said Friedman.
Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain and professor of religious studies, said some religious people have beliefs about what medical interventions are appropriate in connection with their religion.
“The beliefs they hold can relate to purity and impurity and what can be brought into the body, or even whether doctors, as human agents, should do the job of protecting a person,” Lloyd said. “Some religious people believe that God will protect them without additional medical help, and they also believe that their faith requires them to put their trust in God and not in the work of medical science and doctors.”
Steffen said there are certain religions that prohibit the use of vaccines and other medical interventions. He said you could be members of Christian Science who could object, even though there is no church-wide mandate for vaccines.
Dena Davis, Professor of Religious Studies, said, when a religious exception is offered, problems arise.
“You are dangling a privilege that some people want: the privilege of not getting vaccinated on this one … you may get a whole lot of people claiming an exemption is not really eligible,” she said. “If it’s a couple of people, what the hell, right, but when it becomes a really big problem, how do you monitor it?”
Davis said at the age of 16, she cited religious reasons for dropping out of a Saturday class, even though the reasoning was far removed from the reality of her secular Jewish household.
“Well, I’m really embarrassed about this, but I got away with it,” said Davis. “What did she want to do? Would you ask me to recite a prayer in Hebrew? ”
Religious Exemption Requests for the semester were considered by the Religious Exemption Requests Examination Board, which was comprised of student affairs staff, the chaplain, and the Equal Opportunities Coordinator, Friedman said. This committee was set up specifically to handle COVID-19 exemptions.
The members of the Religious Liberation Committee vary depending on whether they are a student or an employee.
Steffen said that when it comes to documenting belief, “evidence that religion itself prohibits certain types of acts, such as military service, provides support and explanation for appealing to religion as a reason for seeking exemption.”
Amy White, assistant director of media relations, said some examples of documentation could include: personalized letters from a religious figure, general statements from a religious organization about their position on the vaccines, and articles about religion or statements from anyone the applicant believes that they answer their inquiries.
White said that in some cases religious exception requests have been denied for failing to provide the requested information, failing to explain that the vaccine violated / failed to identify those religious beliefs, or based their case on social, political, and economic beliefs and philosophies , medical concerns, or personal preferences.
“One must assume that a person denied liberation has in some way neglected to demonstrate genuine religious belief. Perhaps this person did not focus on religious reasons or did not provide an adequate explanation for the extent to which their religious convictions amounted to a religious ban on vaccination, ”said Steffen
Students whose applications were denied had to schedule their first dose within seven days of receiving the school decision, White said.
The deadline for faculty and staff to prove they were fully vaccinated, in process, or requesting an exemption was August 30th.