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Nurse Gets Religious Exemption from COVID-19 Vaccine, But Still Has to Find a New Job

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Many healthcare workers are waking up to new vaccine mandates. That includes everyone that works in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The government recently mandated that all staff in the VA system get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.  

One nurse from Spokane, Washington who works at a VA facility says she recently got approved for a religious exemption, but that might not be enough to save her job.

Opting Out for Religious Beliefs

Some healthcare providers object to taking the vaccine due to their religious beliefs, but it’s not clear whether they will be granted a religious exemption. Many facilities say they won’t grant religious exemptions to staff. In many cases, the only way to get out of the shot is to apply for a medical exemption, which requires a signed note from a physician or doctor.

The federal government announced in July that all VA providers will need to get vaccinated, impacting around 380,000 employees. Secretary Denis McDonough said the department’s vaccination rate has increased 9% since announcing the mandate, but there’s still plenty of work to do.

One nurse recently went public with her story while working at the Spokane Veterans Home. She is remaining anonymous to protect her identity and says she’s already been approved for a religious exemption, but her employer is still giving her the boot.

“If you’re a nurse, and you do not get vaccinated, they want you gone,” she told a local news outlet.

She’s worked at the VA center for 11 years, but feels the state is giving up on her due to her unwillingness to get vaccinated.

She says getting vaccinated would violate her Christian beliefs because she believes in the “God-given immune system” and that the vaccines were created using stem cells from aborted fetuses. (To be clear, none of the vaccines contain aborted fetal cells.) Only the research involved fetal tissue from abortions that occurred years ago.

She says she feels ignored by the state, even though the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs has already approved her request for a religious exemption.

Her employer told her: “The only reasonable accommodation we can offer is the possibility of a reassignment” to a non-nursing position.

“Now, we’re even being ignored now on a personal level, and this goes beyond the worksite,” she said. “That is something that is huge for a lot of people, and for that to be ignored is very concerning.”

The facility says out of 108 staff members, 39 have yet to be vaccinated.

“If I pose such a threat, how come they’re still keeping me on until October 18th?” she said.

The nurse even posted the letter on social media to show that her request had been approved.

In the exemption approval letter, the Department of Veterans Affairs said unvaccinated people are five times more likely to be infected with COVID than vaccinated people.

The letter continues with: These facts show “a significant risk of substantial harm is posed by having someone present in the workplace who may be infected with COVID-19, with or without symptoms.”

Her story racked up lots of comments on Twitter.

“They don’t think she’s not fit to take care of patients. They think she is unvaccinated,” wrote one user.

“I greatly appreciate her 11 years of dedication to patient health and safety, and I dearly wish she had chosen to make it 12. She still has a job; just not one around patients. This is beyond fair. Putting her ‘God-given immunity’ above vulnerable oldies? Not right or fair,” wrote another.

Of course, the nurse still has a job, but it won’t be the same as before. If you are looking to apply for a religious exemption, there’s a chance you might end up serving in a different capacity.

The Race for Religious Exemptions

As more mandates go into effect, facilities, businesses, and municipalities are grappling with a flood of requests for religious exemptions. According to the Associated Press, around 2,600 Los Angeles Police Department employees are trying to get out of the shot based on their religious beliefs. Washington state says thousands of government workers are trying to do the same.

In Arkansas, a hospital says so many staff members are requesting religious exemptions the facility is apparently calling their bluff.

The Labor Department says any exemption can be denied if it puts undue hardship on the employer.

The option first came out of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees who object to work requirements because of “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

The law says the belief doesn’t have to be associated with organized religion; in fact, it may “seem illogical or unreasonable to others,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, these beliefs cannot be founded solely on politics or social ideas.

So, how is an employer supposed to know whether the exemption request is an honest, legitimate one?

Every corporation and facility will have to decide what’s best for its staff and customers/patients. If a nurse’s religious beliefs put others at risk, they might be out of a job.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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