The Biden administration has set standards and the process to be used for federal employees to request exceptions on medical or religious grounds to its Coronavirus vaccine mandate.
The Safer Federal Workplace Task Force has released new guidance including forms for employees to use when making such requests, further telling agencies that they should set a deadline for employees to submit them. It did not suggest a date but it could be soon. The deadline for being fully vaccinated is November 22, but to meet that standard employees would have to receive the single or second shot by November 8.
That follows within days of guidance telling agencies that they can begin an “enforcement process” as early as November 9—counseling, likely a suspension and then potentially firing—for employees who do not comply, unless they have been granted an exception or who have one under active consideration by the agency.
The new guidance says that in considering a request, agencies are to consider “the basis for the claim; the nature of the employee’s job responsibilities; and the reasonably foreseeable effects on the agency’s operations, including protecting other agency employees and the public from COVID-19.”
The form to request an exception for religious reasons asks (in its words):
• Please describe the nature of your objection to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
• Would complying with the COVID-19 vaccination requirement substantially burden your religious exercise? If so, please explain how.
• How long have you held the religious belief underlying your objection?
• Please describe whether, as an adult, you have received any vaccines against any other diseases(such as a flu vaccine or a tetanus vaccine) and, if so, what vaccine you most recently received and when, to the best of your recollection.
• If you do not have a religious objection to the use of all vaccines, please explain why your objection is limited to particular vaccines.
• If there are any other medicines or products that you do not use because of the religious belief underlying your objection, please identify them.
• Please provide any additional information that you think may be helpful in reviewing your request.
The form to request a medical exemption or a delay (see related story) requires that a medical provider sign a form asking for “at least” (in its words):
• The applicable contraindication or precaution for COVID-19 vaccination, and for each contraindication or precaution, indicate: (a) whether it is recognized by the CDC pursuant to its guidance; and (b) whether it is listed in the package insert or Emergency Use Authorization fact sheet for each of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized or approved for use in the United States;
• A statement that the individual’s condition and medical circumstances relating to the individual are such that COVID-19 vaccination is not considered safe, indicating the specific nature of the medical condition or circumstances that contraindicate immunization with a COVID-19 vaccine or might increase the risk for a serious adverse reaction; and
• Any other medical condition that would limit the employee from receiving any COVID-19 vaccine.
It also instructs the medical provider to describe the condition and to state if it is temporary and if so, when it is expected to end.
The guidance in turn lists the CDC-determined “contraindications” as: “severe allergic reaction (e.g., anaphylaxis) after a previous dose or to a component of the COVID-19 vaccine; and immediate allergic reaction of any severity to a previous dose or known (diagnosed) allergy to a component of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Further, it says that “if an individual is allergic to a component of one or more COVID-19 vaccines, that individual may not be allergic to components in all COVID-19 vaccines.”
There is no exception for those who previously have had cases of COVID-19, for those who recently received a different flu vaccine, or for pregnancy, it adds. However, an agency may allow a delay for pregnancy “based on the employee’s particular medical circumstances.”
Each form states that signing it “constitutes a declaration that the information you provide is, to the best of your knowledge and ability, true and correct” and that any “intentional misrepresentation” on the form “may result in legal consequences, including termination or removal from federal service.”