It’s well understood that Facebook and other social media sites have transformed millions of ordinary Americans into newly minted internet virologists and microbiologists, furiously digging through memes and videos—most of highly dubious origin—to find any justification for their preexisting, often politically inspired rationales for refusing the COVID-19 vaccines. Now that thousands of employers are imposing strict workplace policies requiring employees to either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing for the virus, one of the more common excuses they see is the so-called religious exemption, which typically involves an attempt to equate the vaccines with aborted fetuses.
Although such moral arbiters as the Vatican, for example, have debunked attempts to associate the vaccines with cells of human fetuses, vaccine refuseniks have seized upon the developmental phase of the current vaccines, which relied in part on the use of fetal cell lines descended from such cells (originally obtained in the 1970s and ‘80s) and regenerated in laboratories over hundreds of cellular generations for continued use in medical and scientific research. As explained by Nebraska Medicine, for example, “[u]sing fetal cell lines to test the effectiveness and safety of medications is common practice, because they provide a consistent and well-documented standard.” In other words, they are often the best way to test and ensure that vaccines are safe and reliable, or, as in the case of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines, to create an adenovirus vector that makes them effective against COVID-19. They don’t become “part” of the actual vaccine itself. As pointed out by Reuters, such fetal cell lines “have been used since the 1960s to develop vaccines such as chickenpox, hepatitis A, shingles and rubella, as well as drugs for diseases like cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, and rheumatoid arthritis.”
Still, for many Americans informed solely by their social media research, the attenuated relationship between vaccines and these derivative cell lines used in their developmental and production phases is beside the point: having heard the magic words “fetal cell,” their thirst for knowledge suddenly dries up, and their resolve to refuse the vaccine hardens into a pseudo-religious conviction, creating a dilemma for their employers who want to maintain a safe workplace. Faced with such tactics among some members of its staff refusing to be vaccinated, one hospital system has decided to simply embrace these vaccine refusers’ arguments by taking them a step further to their logical conclusion, Beth Mole reports for ArsTechnica:
A hospital system in Arkansas is making it a bit more difficult for staff to receive a religious exemption from its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The hospital is now requiring staff to also swear off extremely common medicines, such as Tylenol, Tums, and even Preparation H, to get the exemption.
The move was prompted when Conway Regional Health System noted an unusual uptick in vaccine exemption requests that cited the use of fetal cell lines in the development and testing of the vaccines.
The list of common over-the-counter medications (as well as commonly prescribed drugs) which were developed, produced, or tested in manners similar to the developmental COVID-19 vaccines, using descendant lines from old fetal cells encompasses just about anything you would commonly turn to for headache, allergy, or indigestion relief:
The list includes Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, aspirin, Tums, Lipitor, Senokot, Motrin, ibuprofen, Maalox, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, Sudafed, albuterol, Preparation H, MMR vaccine, Claritin, Zoloft, Prilosec OTC, and azithromycin.
Under Conway Regional’s procedure, an employee seeking a “religious exemption” must also swear off these medicines, whose historical development, pre- and post-production testing or production processes involved using fetal cell lines in the same manner as that of the COVID-19 vaccines. As Mole reports, if the employee refuses to sign an attestation swearing that they will not consume these common medicines “and any others like them,” they are granted only a temporary exemption from the vaccination policy, presumably to give them enough time to find another job. The attestation itself notes that they will again be asked to either sign it or get vaccinated under potential penalty of termination or other disciplinary action.
As Conway Regional CEO Matt Troup puts it in an interview for Becker’s Hospital Review, the intent of this attestation is twofold:
“The intent of the religious attestation form is twofold: to ensure staff requesting exemption are sincere in their beliefs and to educate staff who might have requested an exemption without understanding the full scope of how fetal cells are used in testing and development in common medicines.”
According to Troup, only about 5% of its approximately 1,830 employees have requested such a “religious exemption.” As reported by KARK 4 News, the attestation required by Conway has made its way onto social media, where it has been criticized as “condescending:”
Troup noted that he is aware the form has started making the rounds on social media put pushed back on the idea held by critics that it took a condescending tone, saying he did not think that to be the case and noting that talking down to staffers was not what they are trying to do.
“We really have no interest in, no intent of being disrespectful here,” he said. “That’s not what this is about. This is a lightning rod issue, and we have no interest in trying to incite more anger and frustration.”
In other words, anti-vaxxers shouldn’t take any of this personally. It’s strictly business.
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