Most Americans say there are no valid reasons to refuse COVID vaccines but are open to exemptions

NYC vaccine mandate
People march as they protest against New York City's coronavirus vaccine mandate for public school employees on Oct. 04, 2021, in New York City. |

Most Americans support religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccinations although only one in 10 say their religious teachings forbid them from getting vaccinated, and 60% don’t believe there are valid religious reasons to avoid vaccination, a new poll suggests. 

The Washington-based polling nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute released survey data last Thursday about Americans’ views about COVID-19 vaccination based upon a sample of 5,366 adults interviewed online between Oct. 18 and Nov. 9.

Among the findings, PRRI noted that 10% of respondents believed that “the teachings of their religion prohibit them from getting vaccinated.” In comparison, 13% said getting vaccinated for COVID-19 “goes against their personal religious beliefs.”

When asked if they agree or disagree that “too many people are using religion as an excuse to avoid COVID-19 vaccination requirements,” 59% of respondents said they either “completely” (30%) or “mostly” agreed (29%). Twenty-two percent said they “mostly disagree” and 18% said they “completely disagree.” 

Meanwhile, 60% agree “there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine,” and 38% disagreed. 

Although only 39% said they either completely or mostly agree that “anyone who simply says that receiving a COVID-19 vaccination goes against their religious beliefs” should be granted a religious exemption, Americans were more open to providing religious exemptions to individuals and groups with a history of refusing vaccinations for other illnesses. 

Fifty-five percent of respondents said anyone who “has a record of refusing to receive other vaccinations” due to their religious beliefs should be able to claim a religious exemption. About 43% disagreed. 

Fifty-seven percent of respondents agreed that anyone who “belongs to a religious group that has a record of refusing to receive other vaccinations” should be able to claim a religious exemption, while 41% said they disagree.

Fifty-one percent of respondents said they agree that anyone with a document from religious leaders saying that COVID-19 vaccinations go against their religious beliefs should be able to claim a religious exemption. Forty-seven percent disagreed. 

Most Americans (52%) disagreed with the statement that “no one should be allowed to claim an exemption from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine based on their religious beliefs.” About 45% agreed with the statement. 

There was a noticeable partisan divide among the respondents as PRRI finds that 73% of Republican respondents and 33% of Democrat respondents supported religious exemptions. 

“When asked specifically about COVID-19 vaccine mandates by the government, slightly more Americans support religious exemptions (58% favor, 41% oppose) for those who sincerely believe they violate the teachings of their religion,” a summary report states. 

“Majorities of most Christian groups say that the government should allow people to opt out of vaccinations if they sincerely believe they violate the teachings of their religion.”

The PRRI report comes amid widespread litigation over COVID-19 vaccine mandates, both for those enacted at the federal and state levels.

Last week, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction against the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for entities that contract with the federal government.

Judge R. Stan Baker of Georgia, a Trump appointee, temporarily blocked the mandate in response to arguments that letting the mandate take effect on Jan. 4 would result in “irreparable injury” to workers.

Baker wrote that forcing plaintiffs to comply with the mandate would require “them to make decisions which would significantly alter their ability to perform federal contract which is critical to their operations.”

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant two emergency requests to block New York’s COVID-19 mandate for healthcare workers. Critics contend that the state should allow religious exemptions since it allows medical exemptions. 

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