All faculty, staff and students who do not have a medical or religious exemption from vaccination must upload a record of full immunization against COVID-19 by Dec. 8, according to an Oct. 14 email from Associate Vice President and Executive Director for COVID-19 Response and Recovery Amir St. Clair. 

The previous policy allowed community members to also apply for remote work or strong belief exemptions from vaccination. Now, Emory University will only approve exemptions based on “approved medical reasons” or “sincerely held religious beliefs.” 

St. Clair said this change in policy was spurred by the full-FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine in August and the White House’s September executive order requiring all federal employees to be vaccinated.

“Due to all of those elements and our desire to continue to promote that safe and healthy campus environment, the decision was made to revise the vaccine exemptions to only allow medical or religious reasons,” St. Clair said.

Currently, about 310 students are approved for an exemption from the University’s immunization requirements. Of these 310 students, 21 are approved for exemptions based on medical reasons. Students who previously applied for medical exemptions will not need to reapply. 

Amir St. Clair is the Associate Vice President and Executive Director for COVID-19 Response and Recovery for Emory University. (Emory University)

“Everyone else will have to re-examine and determine which pathway they’ll take,” Sharon Rabinovitz, executive director of Emory University Student Health Services, said.

All staff and faculty currently approved for COVID-19 vaccination exemptions will need to reapply regardless of the type of exemption they previously had. This will apply to around 500 faculty and staff members who are currently exempted from vaccination.

Additionally, St. Clair said that medical and religious exemptions must be “validated” in order to be approved. Once approved, these community members will be required to continue weekly COVID-19 testing.

“Individuals will be asked to provide additional information, and where necessary further documentation, to support their request,” St. Clair wrote in an Oct. 14 email to the Wheel. “Exemption requests will then be reviewed by a multidisciplinary committee to approve or deny the request. Notification of the committee’s decision will be emailed in a timely manner.”

Students, faculty and staff members who fail to upload proof of vaccination by Dec. 8 without an approved exemption will face “disciplinary measures,” St. Clair wrote. Such measures will be “shared directly through either the applicable HR or student conduct processes.”

Individuals who no longer qualify for an accepted exemption must be fully vaccinated, which is “considered 14 days after the final dose.” This deadline only applies to those who are currently unvaccinated and not community members who previously uploaded proof of full immunization.

This change adheres to policies at peer institutions. Duke University (N.C.), the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California at Los Angeles have only allowed religious and medical exemptions.

While St. Clair said he has not received negative feedback concerning the policy so far, he said he anticipates the policy will “create more discussion and conversations required to help … faculty and staff through this process.” He noted the University has provided information online explaining how this process will work.

“We are going to continue to provide as much consultation and education and communication about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines,” St. Clair said. “This is a change in policy that will require new action by our campus members and so that certainly will elicit likely questions, comments and potentially concerns.”