Arkansas hospital lets staff seek vaccine religious exemption — on one condition

Mid-South

A new study from the CDC looking at more than half a million people has come to the conclusion that COVID vaccines remain effective. (Joel CarrettAAP Image viaAP)

CONWAY, Ark. (KARK) — A vaccine exemption form from an Arkansas hospital is asking employees citing a “sincerely held religious belief” as reason not to get a COVID-19 vaccine to also abstain from using many other medical treatments, ranging from acetaminophen to Zoloft.

Conway Regional Hospital is requiring its staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The hospital has required the flu shot annually as part of employment, but managers said they were seeing a lot more requests for a religious exemption for the COVID-19 shot.

CEO and President of Conway Regional Matt Troup said a large majority of the requests for religious exemptions were about one issue, so administrators developed an attestation form to go with those requests.

“We require the flu vaccine to work here,” Troup said. “With the COVID vaccine, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of exemption requests related to this fetal cell issue.”

The issue Troup is referring to is the use of fetal cell lines in the development of vaccines. That practice uses cells grown in laboratories over decades for the testing and development of vaccines and drugs. According to the National Institutes of Health, the lines used to develop the COVID-19 vaccine date back to at least 1985.

On the hospital’s form is a list of many typical medications. including aspirin, many antacids and numerous cold & flu medications that were developed or tested using fetal cell lines.

Troup believes many who apply for the COVID-19 vaccine exemption may not be aware of that and said the belief and the idea that someone doesn’t use all of those items under the same guise as rejecting a COVID-19 vaccination shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

“We feel that if you request an exemption then attesting to that form really should follow,” he explained, adding that he feels many who seek this exemption are using the religious exemption as a way to hide behind being hesitant.

“A lot of this, I believe, is a hesitancy about the vaccine, and so that’s a separate issue than a religious exemption,” he said.

Troup noted that he is aware the form has started making the rounds on social media but pushed back on the idea held by critics that it took a condescending tone, saying he did not think was the case and noting that talking down to staffers was not what they are trying to do.

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“We really have no interest in, no intent of being disrespectful here,” he said. “That’s not what this is about. This is a lightning rod issue, and we have no interest in trying to incite more anger and frustration.”

Troup noted only about 5 percent of their staff have requested either a medical or religious exemption and the rest are at least partially immunized, adding that if someone’s beliefs about the development of the vaccine are that strongly held, there should be no issue with their attestation form.

He hopes to be able to educate those staff in understanding further what they are potentially requesting.

“That attestation was the right choice, and it helps to clarify with staff that are requesting that exemption exactly what they’re committing to.”

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