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Covid Vaccine Resisters Seek Religious Exemptions. But What Counts?

For many skeptics, resistance tends to be based not on formal teachings from an established faith leader, but an ad hoc blend of online conspiracies and misinformation, conservative media and conversations with like-minded friends and family members.

“People who have already made up their minds are now looking for ways to continue to exempt themselves from the Covid vaccine,” said Joshua Williams, a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado.

Mr. Williams’s prepandemic research into school immunization requirements suggests that most objections described as religious to vaccines are really a matter of personal — and secular — beliefs. After the state of Vermont removed its vaccine exemption for nonreligious personal beliefs in 2016, the proportion of kindergarten students with a religious exemption shot up from 0.5 percent to 3.7 percent, suggesting that most parents who took advantage of religious exemptions did so only when others were not available.

Microsoft, Tyson Foods and Disney are among the major private employers who announced this summer that they would require at least some of their workers to be vaccinated. Since the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine on Aug. 23, others are quickly following.

As mandates take effect and the Delta variant surges in many regions of the country, some former skeptics are submitting to shots. The Biden administration said that roughly 14 million people in the United States received their first shot in August, about 4 million more than in July.

What to Know About Covid-19 Booster Shots

The F.D.A. authorized booster shots for a select group of people who received their second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago. That group includes: Pfizer recipients who are 65 or older or who live in long-term care facilities; adults who are at high risk of severe Covid-19 because of an underlying medical condition; health care workers and others whose jobs put them at risk. People with weakened immune systems are eligible for a third dose of either Pfizer or Moderna four weeks after the second shot.

Regulators have not authorized booster shots for recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines yet, but an F.D.A. panel is scheduled to meet to weigh booster shots for adult recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The C.D.C. has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.

The F.D.A. authorized boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The C.D.C. says that group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit workers; grocery store workers.

It is not recommended. For now, Pfizer vaccine recipients are advised to get a Pfizer booster shot, and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson recipients should wait until booster doses from those manufacturers are approved.

Yes. The C.D.C. says the Covid vaccine may be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy sites are allowing people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.

But among others, desperation to avoid the vaccines is rising. In Paducah, Ky., Drew Kirk and his wife, who he asked not to be named, were strategizing about how to use a religious exemption at the hospital she works for, which recently announced a vaccine mandate for employees.

“There are many reasons we don’t want to take it, and faith is one,” Mr. Kirk said. Their concerns include a perception that the vaccine was rushed, problems with what they have read about the vaccine’s remote connection to abortion and similarities to the biblical “mark of the beast,” a symbol associated with the Antichrist. They also are not overly worried about the virus itself.