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United Airlines workers in Fort Worth area sue over vaccine mandate, religious beliefs

·4 min read

Six United Airlines employees, five of whom live in Dallas-Fort Worth, claimed in a lawsuit filed Tuesday the airline is discriminating against them through the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The Chicago-based airline announced on Aug. 6 that all employees would be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27. The airline told employees they could seek a religious or medical exemption to the mandate and, if approved, they would be placed on temporary leave beginning on Oct. 2.

The six employees in the class action lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas-Fort Worth Division, were placed on unpaid leave after their exemption requests were granted, according to the lawsuit. Two of the employees requested medical accommodations and four asked for religious exemptions because they believe the COVID-19 vaccine was developed using aborted fetal tissue, the suit says.

The vaccines do not contain fetal tissue or fetal cells. Scientists used cells grown in labs over the past few decades to test and research the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines and in development of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those cells — called cell lines — originated from cells taken from aborted fetuses in the 1970s and 1980s.

United Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs in the federal suit are David Sambrano, a captain living in Tarrant County; David Castillo, an aircraft technician living in Tarrant County; Kimberly Hamilton, a station operations rep living in North Texas; Debra Jennefer Thal Jonas, a customer service rep living in North Texas; Genise Kincannon, a flight attendant living in Fort Worth; and Seth Turnbough, a captain living in Chicago who frequently flies through DFW Airport.

Sambrano, Castillo, Hamilton and Kincannon asked to be exempt from the mandate because they believe vaccines “were derived using aborted fetal tissue” and “receiving the vaccine is contrary to the Bible’s teaching that her body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Turnbough and Jonas requested medical exemptions. In the suit, Jonas said she would have also filed a religious exemption request, but the airline only allows one exemption request per employee.

Jonas said in the suit that she is concerned about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine because she has severe allergic reactions to eggs and penicillin. She also had COVID-19 at one time and is concerned about “the risk posed by receiving a vaccine which aims to create antibodies.”

Jonas said she was tested for COVID-19 antibodies and the test was negative, but she plans to be tested again.

Turnbough said in the suit he has multiple sclerosis and his neurologist recommended against him receiving the vaccine because of the diagnosis.

“United’s actions have left Plaintiffs with the impossible choice of either taking the COVID-19 vaccine, at the expense of their religious beliefs and their health, or losing their livelihoods,” the lawsuit says.

According to the Associated Press, an internal United Airlines memo said as of Wednesday, more than 97% of its U.S.-based employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Aborted fetal tissue used in vaccines?

The debate about fetal cells being used in medical developments is an ongoing controversy in religious circles. The premise of the debate is the use of fetal cells to research and develop modern vaccines. Vaccines do not contain aborted fetal tissue. However, cell lines taken from aborted fetuses in the 1970s and 1980s were used in the testing stage of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, infectious disease expert James Lawler explained to Nebraska Medicine.

For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, scientists infected fetal cell lines to grow a part of the vaccine. Those cell lines came from a single abortion that occurred in 1985. This process has been used to make other vaccines. Cell lines have been used from aborted fetuses to create rabies, chickenpox and shingles vaccines.

In July, Pope Francis urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, calling it “an act of love.”

The FDA has issued emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines. In August, the FDA issued a full approval for the Pfizer vaccine.

Aborted fetal tissue is not listed as an ingredient in any FDA approved COVID-19 vaccines.

According to the FDA, the ingredients of the Pfizer vaccine are: mRNA, lipids, potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate and sucrose.

The FDA lists the ingredients in the Moderna vaccine as mRNA, lipids, cholesterol, 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine, tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate, and sucrose.

The list of ingredients provided for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is: recombinant, replication-incompetent adenovirus type 26 expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, citric acid monohydrate, trisodium citrate dihydrate, ethanol, 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD), polysorbate-80, sodium chloride.

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