Despite Rhode Island state law requiring proof of immunization for communicable diseases prior to being admitted to the University of Rhode Island, students may be exempt from some vaccinations for medical or religious reasons.  

Director of Health Services Ellen Reynolds estimates that there are some students who are exempt from vaccinations for medical or religious reasons.  

“We track those and inform those students that when an exemption is filed, if we were to be notified of an outbreak situation in our community, those students would be expected to leave the campus,” Reynolds said. In the case of an outbreak, students who were exempt from the vaccination would be able to return to campus once it was determined safe to do so, Reynolds said.

According to Health Services Medical Director and Staff Physician Dr. Fortunato Procopio, Health Services is required to report to the Rhode Island Department of Health, which in turn determines the action in the event of an outbreak. “We’ve got protocols in place, and the process is commenced within 24 hours,” Procopio said. “It’s as close to immediate as you can imagine.”

Depending on the severity of the situation, Reynolds said, university health officials would “deploy out to the location and provide immediate education depending on the risk.”  

Procopio said medical exemptions affect individuals with immune deficiencies, who would be susceptible to vaccines that contain a live virus. This, Reynolds said, includes individuals receiving cancer treatment who would have compromised immune systems.

There are other reasons to be medically exempt as well. “Some you don’t give to pregnant women,” Procopio said. “Some vaccines people are allergic to or have documented adverse reactions.”

However, when it comes to filing for a religious exemption, the standard is not as high.  The form for this type of exemption, which is issued by the Rhode Island Department of Health, simply requires individuals to specify which vaccinations they wish to be exempt from and indicate that they understand the risk.  

Reynolds said both parents or students can file for the exemption. If a student is over the age of 18 they can file for themselves.

While this may appear to be a loophole that could easily be abused, Reynolds estimates there are less than 20 students who are exempt from vaccinations for both medical and religious reasons combined.  

According to the religious exemption form from the state department of health, students who filed for exemption in the past may re-address their situation and complete the required vaccinations at any time.  

“The most important thing is that there’s a really good, sound reason behind [getting vaccinated],” Reynolds said. “We don’t see outbreaks because people have been vaccinated.”

Health Services can provide vaccinations to students in the event that they may have not already received any of the required immunizations. In addition, students may receive other vaccines for diseases such as Typhoid and Malaria if they are going out of the country.