Are there medical exemptions from getting a COVID vaccine? Here’s what to know

One of the more controversial and debated topics around the COVID-19 vaccines are medical exemptions.

And now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine for those ages 16 and older, vaccine mandates are being implemented across the country.

Many companies and workplaces are requiring employees get vaccinated, restaurants are wrestling with the decision and even some public events are mandating it. Simply put: The discussion around COVID-19 vaccine medical exemptions again is heating up.

So who exactly is exempt from getting a COVID-19 shot on medical grounds? Here is an explainer of what conditions qualify a person from being exempt from the vaccine for medical reasons.

The one medical condition the medical community agrees on that can exempt people from receiving a COVID-19 shot is anaphylaxis.

According to the FDA, people with a history of anaphylaxis, or a “known history of a severe allergic reaction,” to any of the Pfizer shot’s ingredients should not receive the vaccine.

That also applies to the other vaccines if anyone has any allergies to the ingredients in Moderna’s or Johnson & Johnson’s COVID vaccines.

The FDA has a list of ingredients in all three COVID-19 vaccines that can be viewed here: Pfizer | Moderna | Johnson & Johnson.

No. Data from The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology shows that allergic reactions are rare. Earlier this year, studies showed only five cases per million doses of the Pfizer vaccine came down with an allergic reaction, and only 2.5 cases per million doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Medical professionals say if you are allergic to ingredients in one particular vaccine, you should be able to receive another vaccine given the ingredients are different.

According to, one other instance where a doctor might write a medical exemption for a patient with legitimate intentions is if someone developed a serious health issue after receiving the first dose of an mRNA vaccine.

Your first step should be to meet with an allergist or a medical professional who can better evaluate the situation. A specialist can perform allergy testing to see what ingredients you are actually allergic to and make a recommendation on the best COVID-19 vaccine for you.

If you are medically exempt from receiving the vaccine, a doctor will likely write you a note.

But most experts recommend that if you are allergic to an ingredient in one vaccine that you should investigate whether or not you can take another.

Forbes recently noted there is a big difference between safety risks from getting the vaccine and having the vaccines not working as intended.

According to the Forbes article, there has been no evidence cancer patients are more likely to get side effects from the vaccines or that the vaccines are unsafe for them, but there is lots of evidence that they are more likely to develop COVID-19 because of their lack of an immune system.

Dr. Benjamin G. Neel, a professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine and director of the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center, told Forbes that some patients might not develop enough of an immune response with the usual two-shot Pfizer or Moderna regimen or one-shot Johnson & Johnson shot and might benefit from a booster shot.

The FDA even recently authorized an additional dose for immunocompromised individuals, such as cancer patients.

Related stories about COVID-19:

When will children under 12 be able to get the Pfizer vaccine?

The Delta variant symptoms to look out for if you are fully vaccinated

Unvaccinated people 11 times more likely to die from COVID, CDC says

Is it safe to get a flu shot and a COVID vaccine at the same time?

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Katherine Rodriguez can be reached at [email protected]. Have a tip? Tell us at