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COVID-19 vaccine: Why a medical exemption is so hard to get

National health experts say there are no known medical conditions that make vaccines unsafe, except for a few very specific severe allergies.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — More than a hundred Novant Health employees were fired from their jobs for not following the company's vaccine mandate. 

The health system gave workers months to get the shot and Novant gave one final warning last week to 375 unvaccinated workers. Monday we learned 175 lost their jobs.

Employees had the option to apply for a medical exemption. We don't know how many may have been granted, but WFMY News 2's Grace Holland took a closer look at why they are hard to come by.

National health experts said there are no known medical conditions that make vaccines unsafe, except for a few very specific, severe allergies.

Greensboro employment attorney Nicole Patino said that's the only type of exemption approved by employers she has seen. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. 

Since it's up to employers to decide who gets a pass, there are other factors they should also consider.

The medical exemptions that I’ve seen go through are only if the employee has had anaphylaxis in response to a previous vaccination," Patino said. "Other than that, employers are saying, 'we don’t wanna take the risk' because they do face some potential penalties if they have an unvaccinated worker. There is also the concern of the spread of infection."

Those penalties go back to President Biden's requirement that workplaces with more than 100 employees must either vaccinate their staff or test unvaccinated workers once a week.

She said healthcare jobs are a good example of a field where accommodations like weekly testing for the unvaccinated may not go far enough.

"It may be too high a risk for them to allow unvaccinated employees, particularly if they have a large number of employees who are requesting the exemptions, to maintain the workforce and safe work environment for both employees patients and whoever else comes into the facility," Patino said.

Of the 35,000 people who work at Novant's many hospitals and clinics in the Southeast, about 175 were fired for not getting the shot. That means the vaccination rate at Novant Health is 99 percent.

Patino said other employers are seeing mixed results among their employees.

"Some employers are having a good success rate but there are lots of employees who are quitting and are being fired because they have concerns about the vaccine," Patino said. "Those concerns typically extend beyond religious or medical concerns."

Patino said OSHA fines are possible for workplaces that do not comply with Federal law on vaccinations.