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What are the legal medical exemptions for the COVID vaccine?

Doctors and attorneys weigh in on what are legit medical and religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Now that more companies are making vaccine mandates, resistant employees are seeking medical exemptions, but what are legitimate reasons a doctor can write an exemption? California law requires employers to accept medical and religious exemptions.

“It can't be someone saying, ‘I had an adverse reaction,' they have to get a doctor to provide documentation,” said Arlene Yang, Principal, Meyers Nave, Labor and Employment attorney.

Serious allergies are taken into consideration. Doctors say because vaccines have different ingredients, just because you may have had an adverse reaction to a previous vaccine, doesn't mean it will be the same reaction to the COVID vaccine. 

“When I say allergic reaction, I'm talking anaphylaxis which is a serious, life-threatening kind of reaction. I'm not talking about a rash or some other symptom that people may perceive as an allergic reaction,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, M.D., Infectious Disease Physician, Rady Children’s Hospital and U.C. San Diego.

Allergies such as PEG, which is polyethylene glycol is a substance found in both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. It can also be found in contrast in MRIs and ultrasounds.

An allergic reaction has been found in a very small number of people.

“In order for an exemption to be issued, you have to have good evidence that you have that and that typically includes having an allergist evaluation to determine you really are allergic,” said Sawyer.

Dr. Sawyer also serves on Governor Newsom's coronavirus task force scrutinizing any COVID vaccine in the U.S.

He says cancer patients may be exempt from a live virus vaccine such as chickenpox, MMR, but not the COVID vaccine.

“In fact, they are on top of the list because they are more at risk for COVID disease,” said Sawyer.

But what about autoimmune diseases such as Lupus? “There is no vaccine ever that has been linked to worsening your strike of autoimmune disease and COVID vaccine is in that category,” said Dr. Sawyer.

Heart conditions may vary. If you have Multisystem Inflammatory syndrome known as MISC in children, you too could be exempt as well as if you have the neurological condition, Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  

“It's a known complication of vaccines, as well as known complications of natural infections,” said Sawyer.

And for those who suffer from Trypanophobia which is a fear of needles? “That is not a great exemption, there are lots of ways to help people get over the vaccine,” said Sawyer.

Attorneys also say they are fielding calls about religious exemptions to the COVID vaccines.

“What we are seeing more of when we are counseling employees are requests for religious accommodations,” said Yang.

The Pope is encouraging vaccines and San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy told priests to decline exemptions.

“There are very few if any religions that say you should not get the vaccine,” said Sawyer.

RELATED: San Diego bishop asks priests to 'caringly decline' any requests for religious vaccine exemptions

Christian denominations that have theological objections to vaccines are Dutch Reformed Congregations and in some cases Church of Christ, Scientist.

“It's a tricky situation but employers are allowed to ask for information to understand what the religious belief is,” said Yang.

The California Medical Board recently issued a statement that says a physician could face disciplinary action if they grant a mask or vaccine exemption without a proper exam or legitimate medical reason.

Dr. Sawyer says the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego Unified School Board President, Richard Barrera, talks about new mask requirement (August 2021)

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