SAN JOSE, Calif. - Despite no major religion opposing the vaccine, more workers are citing religious beliefs to avoid the shot and many are getting their requests granted. In San Jose, four out of five exemptions requests are approved.
City of San Jose employees have until the end of this week, a grace period to get the COVID-19 vaccine or risk suspension without pay. Employees can also choose to submit a medical or religious exemption. Many already have.
"Of the 376 exemptions that we had as of last week September 30, we have approved 302," said Carolina Camarena, spokeswoman for City of San Jose.
Camarena said out of roughly 7,000 city employees, more than 300 applied and were given an exemption. The majority are religious. She said nearly one-third of those exemptions are in the police department.
One city employee tells KTVU his religious exemption was granted after filling out an online form. He’s Christian and cited scripture verses.
"We have to believe employees are providing truthful and honest information and we will follow the law and they receive the rights they are due," said Camarena.
Santa Clara County also has a vaccine mandate. Out of 22,000 employees, 965 requested a religious exemption. It’s not yet known how many have been approved.
"Questioning someone’s religious exemption that has to be taken very seriously," said Gary Lafayette of Lafayette & Kumagai Law Firm.
Lafayette has been fielding questions from employers about religious exemptions. He said some employers are granting them to avoid litigation and negative press, offering testing as an alternative.
"Being sued in this state is not an insignificant thing," said Lafayette. "The amount of money you end up paying just to defend yourself can be quite substantial."
"It’s been a bigger fight than I ever would have imagined in the United States," said Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Monica Gandhi of UCSF. "I think it's very disappointing. I think it’s misinformation."
Dr. Gandhi is surprised by the numbers. She hopes the inconvenience of testing and masking makes people re-think the vaccine.
"These are really safe and effective vaccines and this is the way to get back to normal," said Dr. Gandhi.
Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and rabbis in orthodox Jewish communities all encourage the vaccine. Employees in San Jose who have been given an exemption must get tested twice a week.
Azenith Smith is a reporter for KTVU. Email Azenith at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @AzenithKTVU or Facebook or ktvu.com.