February 28, 2022

Are HCWs abusing religious exemptions to avoid vaccinations?

Editor's Note

According to a February 28 Politico article, titled “Want a COVID-19 vaccine exemption? It can be as easy as copy and paste,” hospital executives are starting to doubt the integrity of religious exemption requests, Becker’s Hospital Review reports. According to the Politico article, submitting a religious exemption is fairly simple, with the “short, one-page form” in question requiring almost no form of validation.

The current vaccination mandate for healthcare workers (HCWs) requires all staff at health systems participating in Medicare or Medicaid programs to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, with several state-level deadlines recently past or coming up soon. The only way out of the requirement is to request a medical or religious exemption, with the latter reportedly being the easiest route of the two.

"The religious exemption is not a tough standard for a worker to submit," Michelle Strowhiro, an employment lawyer who advises healthcare facilities, told Politico. "There can be a level of people making things up, unfortunately."

According to Politico, “anecdotal evidence” shows that religious exemptions are widespread in the healthcare setting, in part because granting these exemptions has helped hospitals keep part of their staff and not compromise their patient care services. However, “public health experts and patient advocates fear that widespread use of the exemptions risks infecting patients with the virus,” the article notes, citing data suggesting that “more patients [during the Omicron surge] than at any time of the pandemic caught COVID in US hospitals, likely due to insufficient control measures.”

“If I knew that a healthcare worker was unvaccinated, I would not consent to their involvement in my care,” Matthew Cortland, a disability rights attorney who takes immunosuppressants, told Politico.

Staffing shortage is still a grave concern for most, if not all, hospital executives. OR Manager reported on the many reasons why the mandate has been so divisive within the healthcare workforce.

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