What kind of vaccine exemptions should there be ; religious, medical, philosophical, two of these, or just medical?
Why are vaccine exemptions such a contentious issue? Why do some people feel so differently about different exemptions? How does the type of vaccine influence this perspective?
To understand this, we need to define what a vaccine exemption is, and why they are needed.
An exemption generally means that someone can`t or won`t get a vaccine. Exemptions usually fall into three major categories: religious, philosophical, and medical.
Religious exemptions are based on the fact that a person`s faith and/or religious practice forbids vaccination."
Medical exemptions are reserved for those who have autoimmune disease, are on medication, have allergies to vaccine ingredients, or would otherwise be at risk from vaccination"
Some may look for a philosophical exemption when they feel that their belief system does not support vaccines
Medical exemptions are rare, because the criteria for being given a medical exemption are actually quite narrow Thus they are quite difficult to get
Now, I'm not especially religious myself. Still, I understand why religion is important to the values people hold. And how that informs the decisions they make. So for those reasons, I think it's important not to undermine the importance of it in people's lives. It can provide a sense of community, coping with suffering, providing a sense of purpose outside home and/ or their career, among others. There are these deeper reasons that people adhere to religion. And these aren't necessarily linked to being a conspiracy theorist. They`re more linked to individual decisions, not formal positions of organised religion.
Indeed, of the hundreds of religions there are, only 5 Christian subsects actually ban vaccines. These include a subset of Christian faiths including the Dutch reformed Church, Church of the First borne, Faith Assembly and Endtime Ministries. The more major religions like Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Islam, and many more don't directly oppose vaccines. Vaccination is also widely accepted in predominantly Buddhist countries. So anti-vaccine ideology is not a tenet of most organised religions.It takes only a few facts to see this. According to the website of the Vanderbilt Faculty, Hindus venerate cows. However, it also says that trace bovine components of certain vaccines have not been identified as a theological concern. Further, the Muslim doctor Nour Akhras wrote an article entitled “As A Muslim Doctor, I Don`t Say Vaccination Is Permissible, I Say It Is Obligatory”.
That said, some ultra orthodox Jewish mothers refuse to vaccinate against their rabbis`advice. Among Muslims, there have been historical concerns around contaminated oral polio vaccines that sterilise Muslim women. At least 20 polio vaccination workers have been brutally killed across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Based on all this, it can't be said that there is a direct link between religion and vaccination stance. It's more likely that religion is used as an outlet. For what, you might ask? For the underlying issues that contribute to vaccine hesitancy. .And that really becomes clear when you read stories of some who avoided vaccination using religious exemptions. For either themselves or close family members.
Miriam Tewel, an 18-year old from the Crown Heights neighbourhood in Brooklyn, said that rumours spread by rabbis around side effects of vaccines influenced her decision. She opted against going to a one year stay at a seminary in Jerusalem because it required a vaccination. She also stated that “Anything that could compromise my future as a mother is not worth the risk”. She rejected a vaccine, despite a religious retreat requiring it. She also favours being a mother over this. Again, this shows that religion was not the only factor influencing her vaccination decision. Not that it didn`t influence it at all, as rabbis were in part, those who were circulating the rumours.
Brittany Watson is a nurse who previously worked at a hospital in Winchester. She applied for a religious exemption after her employer mandated the COVID 19 vaccine. She states that “I probably would have gotten it if it wasn`t such a push to get it”...”And then they mandate it. Now you`re telling me what to do. I`ve worked 18 months in the pandemic, and now I`m not allowed to work there if I don't have a vaccine.” Although she mentions later that religion factored in here, the feeling of being controlled is what comes across stronger.
A New York Times article describes another such case. When Crisann Holmes' employer announced in 2021 that they would require all employees to be vaccinated by November 1st, she looked for a way out. Like millions of others across the US and indeed the world, she applied for a religious exemption. She stated that “my freedom and my children`s freedom, and children`s children`s freedom are at stake”. Again, the common theme prevails. Feeling controlled. And lack of control is possibly one of the most terrifying things we can experience. People have beliefs to ground themselves during times where things are uncertain, and/or they lack control. That's why the next type of exemption rouses emotions in people - philosophical exemptions.
Image by Gemma Evans. Image sourced from unsplash.com
Everyone has different experiences. And experiences have a huge part in shaping what we value, and what we have a tendency to believe. So beliefs and value systems vary between people.
And that means people question and/or reject vaccines for many different reasons. Freedom. Safety, namely side effects. The need for nationwide school mandates. Why they are required to pay for other medical procedures, but not vaccines? This is a particular issue in Nigeria and other African countries. Many, I imagine, have a combination of these reasons. In my experience anyway, it usually takes a combination of reasons to push someone over the threshold and make a decision about something major like vaccines. Not just that, these underlying beliefs direct most decisions in people's lives.
And for that reason, I don't doubt their importance or significance in people's lives. Whether they are classed as religious, non religious etc. It's important not to invalidate people, as much as possible. Doing that immediately shuts people out. Meaning you`ll never get through to them. Or, at least, less likely to get through to them.
The question must be asked though; where are the limits of respecting personal or philosophical beliefs? It is in itself a philosophical question, interestingly. I respect someone's right to freely travel around my town or city and shop, for instance. I do not, however, respect their right to rob the stores and/or harm other people. I respect other people's right to travel on roads. I do not respect their right to exceed speed limits, etc. An argument I`ve had is that these don't involve violating bodily autonomy in the same way that vaccines, and particularly, mandated vaccines, do.
I understand, but the point is that there are limits to respecting others' personal beliefs. And these laws and regulations that we have set those boundaries. And, no, not everybody is happy about them or adheres to them. Despite that, there are many variables between people. It's impossible to satisfy everyone, but these laws protect as many people as possible to the greatest extent possible. That's the principle that laws are based on and that's also the principle that vaccine mandates are based on.
I understand why people get angry, though. A statement I`ve had a number of times on my social media accounts is that vaccines should not be mandated. I could explain the reasoning above. However, that's not really the point. That usually doesn't get through to people. Which reflects the core theme again. Feeling controlled. When you feel controlled, you usually don't feel that someone has your best interests at heart. And many many people are disappointed at best with how health authorities have handled the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years. A perfect, fertile ground for mistrust, suspicion, and other emotions to grow
Why should vaccines be mandated? Shouldn`t medical freedom be above all else? What's the point of that? It's mainly to protect immunocompromised patients, those who have allergies to vaccine ingredients, or for other medical reasons cannot vaccinate. Those are the people most likely to get the last exemption.
Medical exemptions to vaccines are possibly one of the most controversial issues of the pandemic, next to vaccines themselves. They`re at the heart of some of the most heated arguments for how vaccine laws should be governed. And there's good reason for that. Who is ill enough to warrant a medical exemption? Are two people with different severities of the same illness both equally entitled to medical exemptions? Against which vaccine? It's an ethical issue every bit as much as it is a medical one.
They become particularly controversial when they are misused or abused. For good reason. It's wrong to exploit a condition that causes someone else a huge amount of pain.What makes this morally worse is that any kind of exemption is extremely difficult, I`m told, and so they should be reserved for those who have absolutely no other option. .
In such areas, some doctors write exemptions for people that aren't necessary. That can be for several reasons. A key one is trying to maintain the relationship with their patient. Possibly, after patients threaten to find other doctors. Some feel that nothing they do to combat patient hesitancy will work, and simply give in. As one Japanese health official told Heidi Larson in her book “Stuck”, “we just do not know how to handle all the emotions' '. With many, I imagine it can be a combination of these issues.
In sum, the key categories of vaccine exemption are religious, philosophical, and medical. Many exemptions are caused by feeling controlled and fearing the unknown. Further, we have value systems and beliefs that help us cope with these. These underlying values are clear among those who seek any kind of vaccine exemption. There`s nothing inherently wrong with sticking to our values. That said, when you factor other people in, there are limits to it. My right to swing my arms ends where your face begins. And I think we really need to think about where that point is. It might just save lives. Thanks so much for reading