Medical exemption for COVID vaccine: Few likely to qualify, doctors say as religious exemptions grow

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Vaccine exemptions are becoming a hot-button topic as companies require vaccinations for employment. But are there any medical conditions that may not allow someone to get the COVID-19 vaccine due to its ingredients?

As demonstrated with some recent protests, employee vaccine mandates are not welcome by all employees. While mandates are on the rise, so are medical exemption requests. But, doctors say with MRNA vaccines, there are almost no medical conditions that warrant a pass on the vaccine even for people with compromised immune systems.

"It's just the mRNA, there is not anything live in there. It's not a full virus, the risk of developing an infection to that, there is none," said Dr. Manu Jain, Northwestern Medicine Pulmonary Care.

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Jain said a severe allergic reaction is about the only medical condition that would likely qualify for the exemption.

"If you have a severe reaction after the first one, then you might want to abstain from the 2nd one, but you would only know that after you got the first vaccine," he explained.

Religious exemptions to the vaccine, rather than medical, are what some employment attorneys say they are seeing more of as mandates increase.

But, lawyers say religious exemptions are a bit trickier for employers to figure out because the law has yet to be developed in that area yet.

"They need to discuss it with the person requesting the accommodation," said Margo Wolf O'Donnell, co-chair Labor & Employment group at Benesch Law. "Is it really a sincerely held religious belief, or is it simply a personal belief that they are trying to slap on a religion?"

Wolf O'Donnell said employers must follow the law and take each request case by case.

"These determinations are really so factual, that's why an employer has to carefully analyze them based on their place of business and the particular job position as well," Wolf said.

And more employers will have to make those difficult decisions once President Biden's vaccine mandate for companies with over 100 employees goes into effect.
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