Vaccine policy: exemptions and discussion

A return to campus sees no update to the Hamline vaccine policy, while discussions about safety and religious freedom continue.

Lydia Meier, News Reporter

On January 22, before the beginning of the spring semester, the Hamline campus COVID-19 coordinator Tracey Stoeckel sent an email updating students on Hamline COVID-19 policies, including an update to the mask mandate.

The email reminded students of COVID-19 booster eligibility, but did not require students to get boosted. Currently, a COVID-19 vaccine or approved exemption is required for Hamline students and employees, but a booster is simply encouraged. However, those who are not boosted will be required to quarantine if exposed to a positive COVID-19 case.

At the Hamline-hosted booster clinic on February 1, 194 students and employees received a booster dose, Stoeckel told the Oracle.

Hamline announced the initial campus vaccine mandate in an email on July 15, 2021. 

“Mandating the vaccine last Fall was an easy decision to make based on CDC/MDH guidance,” COVID Consultant Tracey Stoeckel wrote in an email “We wanted to give our students the best opportunity to stay in class in person and felt that mandating the vaccine provided that.”

Professor Mark Berkson is the chair of the Hamline Religion Department, and has done research on religious vaccine exemptions in the past, but was not involved in the creation of Hamline’s vaccine policy.

“You’re not forcing a person to get a vaccine,” he said. “You’re saying, there are consequences to not getting one. Just like if you don’t want to wear a seatbelt, the consequence is you don’t get to drive a car.”

Dean of Students Patti Kersten said she believed the Hamline community is supportive of the vaccine policy, but noted that Hamline students can apply for a medical or conscientious exemption. 

For some individuals, their beliefs prohibit them from taking certain medications or getting vaccinated, Stoeckel said.

“Hamline University is committed to providing a safe, inclusive, and supportive experience for all and recognizes true and genuine observance of religious practice or moral conviction as it pertains to the practice of immunization,” Kersten said.

However, an exemption may be granted in certain situations.

 “If the individual holds a genuine and sincere belief based on a religious community’s doctrine or stated genuine and sincerely held moral conviction that is contrary to obtaining the vaccination,” read an email from Kersten explaining the process. 

Along with this, they must have completed the required paperwork and documentation, which can be found on the immunizations page of the website. Names will be redacted from requests before being reviewed by a committee of university representatives.

Kersten declined to state or estimate the number of students who have applied for an exemption, citing privacy reasons.

Professor Berkson is a supporter of health exemptions but thinks there should be a high bar for religious exemptions.

 “Almost every single religious leader of every single religious tradition has said that vaccines are acceptable, permissible, recommended, or an obligation… This includes the pope, who said, ‘it’s an act of love to get a vaccination because you’re caring for others and for yourself,’” he said.

Some people object to the vaccine because of the potential use of fetal cell lines in development. Berkson said that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine did use fetal cell lines in early development, as with Tylenol and Pepto Bismol.

Berkson explained that there’s no actual fetal tissue or cells in any COVID-19 vaccine, and Pfizer and Moderna didn’t use fetal cell lines at any stage of development.

“I think ultimately a religious exemption case is and should be very hard to make. I’ll say that many of them are actually ideological, political objections taking religious form,” he said.

First-year Maddie Urness agrees with the vaccine mandate, and does not know anyone who needs an exemption. 

“I could go on a whole tangent of how easy it is to get the vaccine,” she said.

Carter Viner, a Hamline sophomore and the HUSC Economic Affairs Chair, personally supports decisions that prioritize campus-wide health and safety and hopes that Hamline continues to adjust policies if the CDC guidelines change.

“The vaccines are remarkably safe and effective in reducing hospitalization and deaths, so I strongly encourage everyone to get the vaccine. Hamline should continue to offer on-sight and easy access vaccination sites for all students, faculty and staff,” Viner said.