Julia Brenton, a registered nurse and unit supervisor on the postpartum unit at Inova Hospital in Leesburg, England, refuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine for moral and religious reasons. She received a permanent religious exemption last year, but now she says the hospital is threatening to fire her if she doesn’t get her shot.
Most nurses in the U.K. have complied with the national vaccine mandate, but Brenton is one a few holdouts putting the idea of religious exemptions to the test.
Research suggests that around 93% of all frontline healthcare workers in the U.K. have received at least one dose of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine. But over 80,000 National Health Service providers in England have yet to receive a shot, according to recent NHS data.
Of those, over 52,000 do not have a medical exemption, equal to roughly 3.5% of all staff that work with patients, which means they are still at risk of losing their jobs if they don’t get vaccinated.
Brenton, who has worked as a nurse for over 10 years, is one of the few that received a religious exemption from the mandate. She applied for the exemption in July 2021 by writing a letter to hospital management. “According to Divine Law, and my religious beliefs, anything that is injected into the body goes against my religious freedom,” the letter reads.
She also shared a letter written by Pastor Perry Darley of Called By Grace Ministries. In the letter, Darley said he recently spoke with her and that she “believes the vaccine mandate violates those values she holds dear,” including “the right to life.”
According to Inova’s official COVID-19 vaccination guidelines, religious exemptions are only granted ” when sincerely held religious beliefs conflict with Inova’s immunization policy.” The guidelines include an option to provide a “note from a religious leader” that “may describe with specificity the sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance that guides the objection to immunization.”
The guidelines also state that a religious exemption would “not be granted when opposition to the immunization is medical, scientific, political, philosophical, ethical, or otherwise secular rather than religious in nature.”
The hospital instituted its COVID-19 vaccine mandate last September, requiring “all rotating residents and fellows to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to rotate at any Inova facility.”
Brenton’s request was initially approved. She received an email last summer confirming that she had been granted a permanent exemption from the vaccine and would not have to reapply.
But all that has changed.
Brenton claims she received an email from Inova in March that said she would have to reapply for the religious exemption. Then on Monday, her request was denied.
Inova’s Vaccine Exemption Request Committee wrote that Brenton failed to meet their standards for exemption and that her being unvaccinated would place an undue burden on the operations of the hospital.
She said there are “many other healthcare workers who were approved and then denied” a religious exemption to the Inova COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
When reached for comment, Inova spokesperson Tracy Connel responded that the hospital “welcomes requests for medical or religious exemptions from team members.”
“Members of Inova’s chaplaincy team assist in review of religious exemption requests alongside a clinical and multi-disciplinary review team,” the statement read. “We will continue to review and update our approach to keeping our team members and patients safe during this public health crisis and our policies will evolve as relevant facts and circumstances warrant.”
Connell added that Inova seeks “to create an environment of zero harm and embraces and practices best evidence.”
“As we continue to learn more about COVID-19 and its many variants, we strongly believe that the safest environment for our team members and patients is one where everyone is fully vaccinated,” the statement continued.