'I personally don't want to.' Miami University approved 94% of COVID-19 vaccine exemption requests

Madeline Mitchell
Cincinnati Enquirer
Miami University received nearly 2,800 exemption requests in response to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. About 94% of them were approved.

Students, staff and faculty pulled from the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, Ohio law, letters from religious leaders and pro-life rhetoric in hundreds of requests to obtain an exemption from Miami University's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Others gave no reason at all. 

One student wrote they would not get the vaccine "because I personally don't want to, which is OK."

"I prefer not to give my personal reasons because it's not mandatory and neither is the vaccine," the student wrote in their vaccine exemption request form. The request was approved. 

Miami, UC mandates:What happens to unvaccinated students, employees?

The university approved 2,600 requests, about 300 fewer exemption requests approved at University of Cincinnati. UC is more than twice as large as Miami in terms of student enrollment.

Students can submit exemption requests to any vaccine for approval from Miami University officials.

Similar to UC, the majority of requests submitted to and approved by Miami were for nonmedical reasons including religious reasons and reasons of conscience. Reasons of conscience consist of philosophical and ethical beliefs, according to Miami.

One such approved request from a student reads: "I got covid a few months ago it was just like having a cold and I have asthma which if it was as bad as everyone thinks then I would've been in the hospital for it. if the vaccine worked so well then we wouldn't have to wear masks ... diseases like this come out all the time."

The Enquirer obtained 62 of the university's nearly 2,800 request forms through an Ohio Public Records Act request, which the university originally denied in November. Names and other identifying information were redacted from the forms that the university agreed to provide in April.

Campus culture: 89% of Miami students received the COVID vaccine

Most students and employees on Miami's campuses are vaccinated against COVID-19, officials said. On Miami's Oxford campus, 91% of students were vaccinated going into the spring 2022 semester. At the regional campuses, 75% of students were vaccinated against COVID-19.

Students are required to get other vaccinations, too, according to the university's website: shots for hepatitis B, varicella, polio and meningitis; the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, and the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster.

Students can submit exemption requests to any vaccine for university approval. Miami approved about 94% of its COVID-19 vaccine exemption requests.

In one COVID-19 vaccine exemption request form, a student wrote about being excluded from social circles during the pandemic even while fully masked and not experiencing symptoms. They wrote they are worried about how the mandate will "change university culture for the worse."

Unvaccinated students who undergo regular COVID-19 test screenings "would become subject to ridicule," the student's statement reads.

"I personally believe I can withstand such ridicule because of my resolve to keep my heath records a private matter, however other students may experience unsafe levels of stress from others who scrutinize them," the statement reads. "This is speculation on my part, but I believe it to be an important factor of how the university's Love and Honor policy could be undermined in the future."

The student's exemption request was approved.

Another student wrote that it is "unethical" to force people to get the vaccine when the side effects are not fully known.

"As someone at my young age with their whole future ahead of themselves, possibly wanting children in the future, etc. I should not be forced into a decision that I have not made for myself yet due to the uncomfortable circumstances I am pressured in," the student wrote. 

Several of the requestors acknowledged that they may have to abide by other safety policies in lieu of getting the vaccine, such as social distancing and wearing masks.

"I strongly believe we should not be required to take the vaccine," one student wrote, "even if that means unvaccinated people must abide by stricter procedures which I would be understanding of and okay with."

'I don't like needles.' Few requests denied for insufficient statements

For every medical exemption request submitted to the university, there were an average of 8.5 nonmedical requests. Officials said none of the medical exemption requests was denied, though some requests had to be resubmitted if the requestor did not provide the proper paperwork in their initial form.

Thirteen nonmedical student requests were denied because of issues with their personal statements. These students either didn’t provide a statement, submitted a statement they didn’t write themselves or provided a statement the committee otherwise found insufficient.  

“I do not feel comfortable taking any Covid-19 vaccine and will not take it because of my religious and ethical beliefs,” reads one student’s one-sentence request. 

A review committee member commented in the file: “Not sure if there’s enough of a statement here.” 

Another student simply wrote: “I don’t like needles.” 

Other students submitted statements written by their parents.

“I am an alumni of Miami and I am truly embarrassed and disappointed by this Utilitarian decision to use coercion and force a COVID vaccine mandate on these young mostly healthy College students,” a parent wrote on their son’s behalf. The parent wrote their son already contracted COVID by September 2021 and had natural immunity, “the best immunity.”  

A review committee member responded to the denied request asking the student to resubmit the request themselves for reconsideration. 

Another student was told their request was denied because they used another student’s name in their narrative. 

“After much research and deliberation, I chose Miami University to further my academic pursuits and personal development. I, (student name), am a second year student,” the statement begins. 

A committee member responded and said the student could resubmit a new exemption request if they’d like. 

That student’s denied statement, five paragraphs in length, described the vaccine's threat to Christian values and the “neurotoxins, hazardous substances, adenovirus (J&J), animal ingredients, foreign DNA, DNA, carcinogens, and chemical wastes” contained in the vaccines. Those ingredients “are harmful to the body and are produced using practices that violate my closely held religious beliefs,” the statement reads. 

An 'equal opportunity virus'

The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, said Dr. Robert Frenck, director of Gamble Vaccine Research Center at Cincinnati Children's Medical Center. He said everyone that can get the vaccine, should.

COVID-19 is an "equal opportunity virus," Frenck said. It doesn't care about gender, race, politics, religion or wealth. "It's just looking for cells to invade and to infect."

Frenck said misinformation about the vaccine is keeping some from getting the shot.

Fact check: 6 of the most persistent misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a webpage dedicated to debunking myths about the COVID-19 vaccines. The center maintains the following as facts:

  • Getting a COVID-19 vaccination is a safer and more dependable way to build immunity to COVID-19 than getting sick with COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 vaccines do not create or cause variants of the virus.
  • COVID-19 vaccines do not contain microchips.
  • Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will not make you magnetic, including at the site of vaccination which is usually your arm.
  • COVID-19 vaccines do not change or interact with your DNA in any way.
  • The vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

Religious exemptions: 'My body belongs to God.'

More than one third of the nonmedical exemption requests provided to The Enquirer cited Christian beliefs and/or abortion.

Some of those exemptions from students read:

  • "I believe my body belongs to God and is the temple of the Holy Spirit from birth to death. The Holy Spirit has moved on my heart and conscience that I must not accept the Covid shot."
  • "Over the past year, I was distressed to learn that all three COVID-19 vaccinations were associated and linked with abortion, through the use of aborted fetal cells. My sincerely held religious beliefs call me to be pro-life and to oppose the use of and market for aborted fetal cells. My faith dictates that elective abortion is wrong because it is the intentional killing of human life."
  • "I cannot express enough with the breadth of the human language my sincerely held religious and moral convictions against being vaccinated with something that has callously and horrifically used aborted children in the manufacturing or testing process."

A staff member who quoted several Bible verses from Exodus and Corinthians wrote: "Covid-19 vaccines to me are unclean. I believe in and follow God and the principles laid out in His Words and I have a deeply held belief that these vaccines violate them."

Frenck would not speak to the practices at specific universities or Miami's exemption request forms specifically. But he explains that no fetal cell lines are used in the creation of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, both of which are mRNA vaccines.

As part of the clinical trials testing the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, blood was collected from vaccinated participants to measure antibodies as a way to tell how well their immune system responded to the vaccine.

One specialized blood antibody test, used only in research, used a fetal cell line that was created over 60 years ago to see how well the antibodies blocked the COVID-19 virus from entering the cell line, Frenck said. It was necessary to use cells for the test because viruses cannot survive on their own.

Frenck said this test was used only in research and participants were never exposed to the cells used in the test. This specialized, research testing was not performed at Cincinnati Children's. Antibody testing conducted with regular patients since the trials do not use this method or fetal cells, he said.

The vaccines were not made with cells of any kind, Frenck said, and talk of the vaccines being connected to use of aborted fetal cells is "totally nonsense." 

Pope Francis has been vaccinated and the Catholic Church encourages people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Francis said in an August public service announcement that getting the vaccine is "an act of love."

Other exemption requests cited concerns over the speed at which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed, little evidence provided on the long-term effects of the shots and the need for more time and/or research to decide whether or not they should get inoculated.

"I would be open to getting it if more evidence was out but I don't see the benefit as I'm a young healthy person that has had it and gotten over it quickly without any major side effects. In all I just don't feel comfortable getting something in which there is not very conclusive evidence," one student wrote. 

A faculty member wrote they will revisit the idea of becoming vaccinated at a later date, but for now refuse to get the vaccine because of risks to their mental health. 

The vaccine is safe and relying on your immune system alone "is taking a big chance," Frenck said. 

"It can be a very deadly virus," he said, noting the best defense against COVID-19 is the vaccine.