Ramifications of Lying on a Religious Exemption Form for COVID-19 Vaccinations

As nurses around the country weigh their professional options, some wonder if the answer resides in telling a white lie. But every choice has a consequence. What are the ramifications of lying on a religious exemption form?

For most institutions, the final date for being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 has passed or is quickly approaching—leaving some nurses feeling more pressure than ever.

Many had hopes of calling the bluff of their health care organization, but now are scrambling for a new career move. Although resistance to vaccinations has been around for 2 centuries, it has never been more politicized or debated following the COVID-19 pandemic. From freedom rallies to No. 1 hit songs, COVID-19 represents more than just widespread illness­—it is a socioeconomic torrent.

As nurses around the country weigh their professional options, some wonder if the answer resides in telling a white lie. But every choice has a consequence. What are the ramifications of lying on a religious exemption form?

A Trusted Profession

These nurses are single moms and dads, breadwinners, 401K earners, and insurance providers. They need to work. A large number have survived the virus after caring for those who did not.

Feeling used and abused by hospitals and politicians, the temptation to fabricate a religious exemption is tempting. What's the big deal if there are suddenly more Dutch Reformed Congregationalists who don't believe in taking vaccinations?1 For starters, nurses are 1 of the most trusted professions in our country. And although we do not officially take the Hippocratic Oath, we abide by nonmaleficence (do no harm) and beneficence (do good) . Being deceptive may damage both of those principles.

Nurses have an innate desire to advocate for the ethical treatment of their patients, yet the foundation of continued employment could be established on deception. Having to choose a job over one’s honor is a cruel circumstance without a clear answer.

Reduce the Nursing Shortage

Due to burnout and stress, nurses have been leaving in droves even before the vaccine mandate. The thought of abandoning an already understaffed unit has many in our profession feeling guilty.

The hospital is often our home away from home—making the decision to conform or rebel more difficult. Many friendships are formed during each shift's long hours, and leaving behind these unique relationships is disheartening. However, there have been several reports of health care organizations approving nearly all religious exemption requests, and thereby staying tolerably staffed. This may be an appealing option for not only nurses, but hospital executives as well.

The Question of Natural Immunity

What about natural immunity? Do those nurses get a pass? The lack of conclusive data regarding the efficacy of antibodies produced by organic inoculation vs immunization has many nurses questioning the need for further viral protection.

Evidence-based practice is the backbone of the nursing profession, just ask our research instructors! Being told to forgo this fundamental learning objective is a hard pill to swallow (literally). Since medical experts can't even agree on the science of this subject, the nursing community is left feeling confused and leery. A bill was recently introduced to the House of Representatives called the "Natural Immunity is Real Act," asking that natural immunity be considered when creating federal regulations. But as local politicians butt heads with the current administration, the bill will likely result in a long dragged-out ordeal. In the meantime, religious accommodation requests are at an all-time high.

The Disease Spreaders

To make matters even more complicated, we must consider the imperfections of the vaccine. Breakthrough cases of COVID-19 after full vaccination are being reported by local health departments daily. Unfortunately, many organizations are only subjecting non-vaccinated nurses to testing—leaving the potential for the vaccinated to spread the virus unknowingly. Many nurses fear that not only is this dangerous for patients, but this method will make anti-vaxxers appear solely responsible for being the disease spreaders. Perhaps the safest way to keep the virus out of the hospital is by testing every employee—leaving little room for error.

Either way, if COVID-19 can be contracted and spread whether vaccinated or not, what merit is there in removing great nurses from the workforce?

Final Thoughts

The predicament of fudging a religious exemption form goes deeper than just being dishonest. For many, it is their livelihood and freedom. So rather than incentivizing nurses to lie on exemption forms, perhaps we can provide COVID-19 testing for every health care worker to keep our patients surviving and our nurses thriving.

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