Man fired from Harrison highlights tensions over requests for vaccine waivers

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The battle over covid-19 vaccine mandates has put religion in the spotlight as experts say more people than ever claim vaccines conflict with their religious beliefs, a claim employers must try to ‘assess in the midst of a deep vaccine gap.

Shane Chesher, 34, of the Natrona section of Harrison, was among a number of Allegheny County employees fired this week after a deadline for county employees to submit proof of vaccination or receive a qualified exemption passed.

More than 94% of employees had submitted their documents by Thursday morning, county officials said, although they could not say how many employees were fired for not meeting the deadline.

Chesher said he received an email on Thursday informing him that he had been made redundant and no longer employed by Allegheny County. He said the local workers’ union was fighting against his dismissal.

He said he saw the writing on the wall when he was denied his religious exemption.

“I was sort of starting to prepare to be fired because I knew I wasn’t going to give in to a bully trying to bully me into doing something I didn’t want to do,” Chesher said.

He said his objection to the vaccine’s mandate was based on his faith.

“I believe that God gives us sovereignty over our bodies and over no one else. It was one of my main things, ”he said. “I believe – I don’t believe, I know – that God gave us our rights, and our rights are meant to be protected and they are being violated.

He added: “Abortion is part of the process (to create vaccines), and it is also a violation of my conscience and my religious beliefs.

Some vaccines have a remote connection to fetal cells. The cells, called fibroblast cells, are used to grow vaccine viruses. The cells were originally from the elective terminations of two pregnancies in the early 1960s, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Since then, the original fetal cells have been cultured in the laboratory. This means that the cells used to develop today’s vaccines – which include the chickenpox, rubella, hepatitis A, and rabies vaccines – come from the same original cells obtained in the 1960s.

The same cell lines have been used to test common over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin, according to a detailed breakdown from National Geographic the link between vaccines and fetal cells.

Chesher said he recently worked for the Parks Department in Harrison Hills Park, near his home.

“I didn’t want to lose my job, but I wanted to stand up for what I believe is right,” said Chesher, who has a wife and two daughters. “I put my faith in God and not in a paycheck or a job,” he said.

Chesher said he didn’t expect his story to receive the attention it gets, and although the reaction was mixed, he said he received “more support than hate” .

“For the people who are against me, I am fighting for them too, because freedom is for everyone,” he said. “For those who are by my side, I hope that I can give them the courage to defend themselves too. “

A delicate gray area

The idea of ​​religious exemptions has become a tricky gray area as covid-19 increases, vaccination mandates take effect, and the gap widens between science advocates and those who refuse vaccination.

The deep divide between political lines is not historically where requests for religious exemptions have plummeted, said Kira Ganga Kieffer, a doctoral student at Boston University who is writing a book on vaccine skepticism in the country.

“What I am seeing and what we are experiencing nationally is the politicization of this vaccine,” she said. “Those who stubbornly want to refrain from getting vaccinated are claiming an identity, and it seems to me that it is largely a religious and political identity.

The current political climate is confusing matters even more, said Wendy Parmet, law professor at Northeastern University. She said that while religious exemptions are not a new concept, two things have changed in recent years.

“Vaccine resistance is sparked by misinformation on social media, and it’s tied to political polarization in a way that’s really more magnified than we’ve seen before.”

People’s religious beliefs are closely tied to worldviews, secular beliefs, political beliefs and fears, Parmet said.

“We have more people coming to their religious exceptions through paths of political anger and disinformation,” she said. “Once upon a time what would have been a small exemption now threatens to become a much bigger (problem).”

Kieffer said there had never been so much pressure before for religious exemptions, which typically affected school-aged children whose parents wanted to opt out of childhood vaccinations.

“Religious exemptions have always been there,” she said, “but they were very individualized and not en masse in the way they are trying to be used right now. “

Studying measles outbreaks, Kieffer said they could be traced to areas with a range of political and religious opinions: data shows outbreaks in conservative areas, religiously island areas, progressive areas and others.

Few religious doctrines explicitly prohibit vaccination, according to a review of the most common religions by Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The report notes that although most religions do not prohibit vaccination, some “have considerations, concerns or restrictions regarding vaccination in general, particular reasons for vaccination, or specific vaccine ingredients.”

Among Christian denominations, the majority of denominations have no theological objection to vaccines, according to the university. They include Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Amish, Anglican, Baptist, Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Quaker, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Seventh-day Adventist, Unitarian-Universalist, and The Church of Jesus Christ. of the last days. Saints.

Other religions whose doctrines do not raise any objection to vaccination include Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Scientology.

Vanderbilt’s review found only a handful of denominations in which vaccination issues are raised: Dutch Reformed congregations and faith healing denominations like Faith Tabernacle, Church of the First Born, Faith Assembly, Endtime Ministries and Church of Christ, Scientist.

Kieffer said the issue under consideration today goes beyond statements in Scripture or by religious leaders, many of whom have spoken out against religious white card exemptions. The basis for granting or denying an exemption request depends on whether the vaccination goes against “genuine” religious beliefs.

“We live in an extremely individualized country, so people have individual beliefs or ideas that don’t necessarily come directly from a big denomination or the Catholic Church or their synagogue or something like that,” a- she declared. “But they can still identify them as religious beliefs, whether they are religious or spiritual or not.”

Kieffer said she doesn’t question the sincerity of anyone’s beliefs, but “when you talk about beliefs it can be anything.”

Parmet agreed.

“A person can sincerely believe that a vaccine violates their religious beliefs based on their own personal religious understanding, their own faith, a vision that came to them in the middle of the night – whatever,” he said. she declared.

Because religious freedoms allow for beliefs that might not be strictly Orthodox, Parmet said, it makes it difficult to maintain order against the abuse of such exemptions.

“It is very difficult to control the lines between people who say, ‘I have a religious exemption’ and people who are actually upset with vaccines because they have been given the wrong information telling them that the vaccines will cause fertility issues, “she said.

She called it a catch-22 for employers.

“If they give exemptions too generously – basically give them whenever asked – they’ve canceled the mandate,” she said. “If they strictly monitor them and really try to question sincerity, they face the risk of litigation.”

Megan Guza is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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