1% of Simmons students are unvaccinated, largely for religious reasons


Jane Donohue, Contributing Writer

As of October 26th, 99% of graduate and undergraduate students at Simmons are vaccinated against COVID-19. The other 1% students are exempt from the vaccine for religious or medical reasons, a process handled by the Health Center.

“A total of 24 undergrads have requested a medical or religious waiver,” said Marybeth Davis, RN, assistant director of the Health Center. 23 graduate students have vaccine exemptions. Of the 24 undergraduate students with exemptions, 11 live on Simmons’ residence campus. The remaining 13 are commuters.

One of the 24 undergraduate exemptions is for medical reasons, Davis said. The remaining 23 are for religious beliefs. According to Davis, this is the norm for vaccine exemption requests.

“Even when we have a request for exemption for other Massachusetts-required vaccines, it is mostly people requesting for religious reasons. Very few are medical,” Davis said.

Requests for vaccine exemption are handled on a case-by-case basis. To request exemption, students must reach out to the Health Center and discuss the reasons for their exemption. This process ensures that those requesting exemptions are doing so for what Health Center officials deem legitimate reasons.

“We put the onus on them to reach out to us, and that way if they have questions about the vaccine or are on the fence at all we can help educate them about what it is and maybe alleviate some of their fears,” Davis said. “We don’t have it so that just anyone can say, ‘I don’t want it.’”

Following their discussion with the Health Center, students seeking vaccine exemption are required to fill out a form detailing why they are requesting an exemption. After submitting the form, Health Center officials decide whether to grant exemption or not. So far, Davis said every request for vaccine exemption has been approved.

“If somebody says they have a religious exemption and they state their case we, for the most part, take them at their word and respect that that’s where they’re coming from,” Chief People Officer Suzie Murphy said.

“Different schools have comparable policies but might deal with it a little bit differently,” Murphy said. “At Boston College they put a pretty hard line in the sand around, you know, if you’re Catholic you can’t have a religious exemption because Catholicism [does not oppose] being vaccinated with the COVID vaccine. We haven’t done anything like that.”

Boston College spokesperson Ed Hayward pointed to Pope Francis’ statement that Catholics are morally obligated to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, AP News reports.

The majority of religions have voiced support of vaccination against COVID-19, the New YorkTimes reports. However, rules set by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission mandate that exemptions for religious vaccine exemption do not have to conform with the doctrine of any organized religion. According to EEOC law, in order to qualify for a religious exemption the request for exemption must have its basis in an individual’s faith, not in their political or social beliefs.

Of the 19,365 COVID-19 tests administered to members of the Simmons community, 0.13% (30 tests) have come back positive, according to Simmons’ COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

Simmons’ COVID-19 Recovery Task Force meets weekly to discuss how the university should move forward amidst the ongoing pandemic, said Laura Wareck, director of media relations for Simmons.

“As we’re making all these decisions it’s really in that context of gathering the best data, the best recommendations, and then implementing them in a way that makes sense for our community,” Wareck said. 

As of Oct. 18, 1,101 campuses across the U.S. have implemented COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students or employees, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Though some universities are having a hard time enforcing vaccine mandates, Forbes found that students and employees are generally complying readily and getting vaccinated.