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UNF nursing students hold firm in religious belief to not get the COVID-19 vaccine, putting their schooling in jeopardy

Kaitly Hevner is set to graduate from nursing school in December, but she has doubts that may not happen.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As mask mandates and vaccine mandates play out in court, some nursing students at the University of North Florida hired their own attorneys as part of a pushback on vaccine requirements ahead of starting their clinicals. 

Kaitlyn Hevner hopes to finish her nursing degree in December, but she has doubts about whether that will happen. 

"Many other students are in this same situation, in a holding pattern," she said.

She filed a religious exemption to keep from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.  However, some hospitals UNF relies on to place nursing students for clinicals are requiring them. 

"To wonder if you're going to get in, if you are going to be able to graduate if you are going to be able to move forward in the program. Like, it sucks.  It's really hard," she told First Coast News.

Credit: Courtesy: Kaitlyn Hevner
Kaitlyn Hevner filed a religious exemption to keep her from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. But, it could keep her from finishing her nursing degree.

A spokesperson for UNF tells us the university is not mandating vaccines, but, other healthcare facilities are "…beginning to announce similar requirements for students in many of our other health-related programs." 

Hevner is still waiting on whether or not her exemption was granted or if UNF is willing to accommodate her request through any of its affiliated hospitals.

She has an ally in State Rep. Anthony Sabatini. 

"No matter how you feel about the vaccine, I just think it's wrong to tell people that they are going to be fired, or kicked out or punished in some way," he said.

He sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and UNF asking the university to uphold students' constitutional rights.  

"This young woman wants to be a nurse, wants to serve our public and continue her education and these people should be fighting for her, not against her," Rep. Sabatini said.

The clock is ticking for Hevner to decide her next steps.  Friday is the deadline to decide whether or not to withdraw from the nursing program with a full refund. 

"Any reasonable person could maybe understand this position. I am not trying to force anyone else. I am just trying to stand up for students' rights," Hevner said.