Public health is not a matter of personal choice.
By Roya Amirsheybani
Since the announcement of the wider mandate of getting vaccinated against Covid-19, Covid-19 deniers and vaccine resisters have kept busy finding more and more loopholes to justify their lack of care for public health concerns. A popular highlight within the multitude of excuses given by anti-vaxxers includes religious exemption claims, which is a request made by a religious individual subject to a vaccine requirement to avoid such a requirement. As one might expect, this antagonism has led to significant clashes between employers and leaders that wish to protect the public and those that feel unfit to comply.
On Saint Mary’s campus, the provided option of claiming exemption from the Covid-19 vaccine due to religious beliefs is a controversial subject. According to the college’s website, 97% of students and faculty are vaccinated against Covid-19, meaning that a small percentage of those on campus have claimed an exemption, which begs the question “Is this justified?” From the perspective of a non-religious, pro-vaccine advocate for protecting the safety of others, using religion to justify not getting vaccinated against Covid-19 should not be an option in either setting.
A quick Google search reveals that no significant religion actively opposes being vaccinated against Covid-19. According to NPR journalist Laurel Wamsley, many religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Catholic Church, have issued statements that contradict the very existence of the option of claiming religious exemption. Pope Francis, the pope of the Catholic church, has also voiced his opinion on the COVID-19 vaccine, referring to it as an “act of love.” Seeing that Saint Mary’s is a religious college affiliated with the Catholic Church, it should not be a question whether or not those living and learning on-campus may be exempt from the Covid-19 vaccine due to religious reasons. However, for some reason, the College (and a large percentage of universities in the United States) are accepting religious exemptions as a form of permission to let educators and students on campus. While it may seem like a minuscule detail, the availability of this as an option leads me to question how far institutions will go to garner as much tuition as possible.
These revelations lead me to question the honest truth behind this faith-backed excuse. In my opinion, it seems highly likely that many vaccine resisters that seek an exemption from the vaccine are making an excuse to justify their lack of concern for the general public and distrust of the American government. According to the Associated Press, Chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci has expressed concerns that people who resist vaccination against Covid-19 due to religious reasons are not making legitimate claims. I share this concern, and question why any employer or institution would ever consider approving a religious exemption. While the United States of America has been known as “the land of the free,” the quest for personal freedom should not apply in a health crisis as dire as the Covid-19 pandemic.
As all Gaels are (hopefully) aware, Saint Mary’s is guided by the five Lasallian Core Principles, which include: concern for the poor and social justice, faith in the presence of God, quality education, respect for all persons, and inclusive community. Let us all have respect for one another by getting vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to promote the safety and health of our fellow Gaels.
Ryan Ford '23,