Courtesy of Stan Lim via UCR

When the UC system announced that in-person classes would be offered only if students got vaccinated, there were exemption options that followed. These included accommodations for those who have medical reason not to take the vaccine, or those who have a religious opposition to it. The former has obvious reason to exist; some immunocompromised people may not be able to take it due to an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine. The latter, however, is a loophole for anti-vaccine individuals to not take the COVID vaccination. All major religions have endorsed the taking of the vaccine to their followers, from the Pope to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to the leaders of Hinduism. However, some sects and individuals are refusing to do what will help the safety of others, and the UC system should close the religious loophole to keep people from putting the rest of the population at risk.

The most obvious reason why the religious exemption loophole needs to be closed is because anyone can say they’re religious just to get out of taking the vaccine. Some may have to click a digital box and say they’re religious, and others may have to submit a letter in order to receive the exemption. Since both of these methods rely solely on the honor system, anyone could be the furthest thing from religious but simply check off that box or submit a letter detailing how pious they are without ever stepping foot in a place of worship. The lack of vetting in this process indicates that anyone can use and abuse this exemption to get out of having to take the vaccine to go to a UC. In K-12 schools, the personal belief exemption from vaccines has been eliminated entirely in California to prevent this kind of circumventing. These mandates are in place primarily because vaccines work. They keep students safe, and as a result, we have no outbreaks of polio or chicken pox at schools anymore. The same principle should apply to COVID-19 on college campuses; all students who can should take the vaccine for the welfare of those around them.

For those who identify as religious that refuse to take the vaccine, it’s no surprise that the reason for this is because of the high politicization and misinformation surrounding the pandemic. From something as simple as a family friend sharing an anti-vaccine meme on Facebook to as serious as Republicans in Congress denouncing the vaccine, the pandemic has sadly been clouded by heavy politics that never should have entered the sphere of health in the first place. The COVID vaccine has created an even more divided “us vs. them” environment in America, which is already inflamed by divisive party politics and useless black-and-white thinking that is making our country stagnate. 

One of the major worries is that vaccines were tested using fetus cell lines; while this is true in the case of some vaccines, neither the Pfizer nor Moderna vaccines used fetus cell lines. In fact, pro-life groups have deemed these two vaccines safe for pro-life people to take if this happens to be a concern. Additionally, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine did use fetal cell lines to test the vaccine, these cell lines are from two elective abortions in the 70s and 80s, so it isn’t any fetus that has been born recently. While those who are ideologically opposed to abortion may say that this is an excuse to not take the vaccine altogether, there are still two vaccines endorsed by religious leaders that can be taken in good conscience. However, people are so tied up in party identity politics that facts no longer matter.

The religious exemption is therefore almost wholly useless and is being used so people who are misinformed can avoid protecting themselves and other people. As the Delta variant sweeps around the world, it is the unvaccinated who are most at risk of death. At some point, the conviction one has for their party’s morals has to give way to common sense. Though distrust of the government is wholly valid, in the middle of a pandemic that has killed so many people worldwide and left families distraught, to hold on to the false belief that God will smite you down for something as simple as a needle in your arm and a vaccine in your bloodstream is dangerous to all involved. Nowhere in the religious literature does it say that you cannot take a vaccine that will save people’s lives. Religious groups have stated that it’s the right and just action to take, but American selfishness continues to cloud common sense. 

No other country on Earth has had the difficulties that Americans have when it comes to getting people vaccinated. Americans are so dead set in selfishness and being correct that they will refuse to do what is right even when the religion they claim to follow states that it is fine to take a vaccine that will protect everyone. To keep the religious exemption open will make colleges a high-risk place for everyone to be so long as the pandemic continues. The UC must close this exemption and offer no excuses outside of medical exemptions if it values the safety of its campus communities and the safety of the country as a whole.

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