To start with, you might want to read David French’s column It’s Time to Stop Rationalizing and Enabling Evangelical Vaccine Rejection. I will try not to repeat what he has already said quite clearly in what I write below.
I am not going to attempt to lay out the science regarding masks, vaccine statistics, Covid-19 transmissibility, etc. If you want good information on that sort of thing you should listen to this podcast by Dr. Michael Osterholm at CIDRAP. He’s an expert on infectious disease transmission who is not playing politics – a reliable source of sound medical information and (when there is enough data) advice.
What I’m going to do is write as a Christian about our responsibilities as followers of Jesus in times such as these. We need clear thinking, and respect for Jesus’ teaching. We should be leading the way toward life through our care for one another and our communities!
I’ve had dear friends or family tell me that they prayed sincerely and that God told them not to get a Covid-19 vaccination. Secondarily, they may report that deeply spiritual friends confirmed this advice. The next portion of the conversation often goes to nutritional supplements and various schemes for “building the body’s natural immune system”. There might even be an “I don’t trust the people who developed this vaccine” or “this vaccine is new and untested” thrown in.
Frankly, many times these dear ones are generally impervious to counter-evidence. So why write something like this? Oh, I don’t know… perhaps I have a naive hope that truth matters? Or maybe I am scratching an itch to vent the considerable frustration that comes when people drag God’s reputation through the mud? Or from watching people I care for make really bad choices with far-reaching consequences?
Let me start simply by saying if God tells you to do something, or not to do something – then do what he says. That’s what it means to be Christian. What I question is two things:
- Why is anyone asking God whether or not they should act in a good and loving manner to care for their community and their own health by getting a vaccination in the face of a preventable disease?
- Did God really say that? Did God really tell them not to get a vaccination? Or is something else influencing this decision and being interpreted as “God said”?
A tree is known by its fruit. The “tree” of anti-vax is bearing noxious deadly fruit of suffering and death. It is spreading disease, particularly within the communities of those who are refusing vaccination. And it is spreading Covid-19 to children for whom vaccines are not yet available and others who have compromised immune systems. Covid-19 is more contagious and more dangerous and deadly to those who are not vaccinated and have not had the virus previously. Every ICU doctor can testify that those suffering the worst impacts of Covid-19 are now the unvaccinated and others having immune-deficiencies. ICU doctors report that anti-vaxxers hospitalized with Covid-10 are quite often resentful and angry toward the medical staff trying to help them! The increased stress on medical staff and medical facilities makes a difficult time needlessly more difficult. Others are very sorry they didn’t listen to good medical advice and get the vaccination. Much of this could easily be avoided! This is the fruit of the anti-vax tree.
I don’t need to inquire earnestly of God for special leading as to whether or not I should do my part to care for my community by getting a vaccination. Rather, I would need a special intervention by God to tell me not to be vaccinated, were this his plan for me! I would seek confirmation from trusted advisors because such a course of action is so radical – like being told to go as a naked prophet to preach in the local supermarket or the like! I would expect to bear consequences for such a fraught decision. God expects us to think clearly and act with love toward our communities. That is our calling – God has already spoken!
Generally, I don’t get my medical advice from spiritual experts. I ask the elders of the church for prayer for medical conditions; but I don’t go to them (as elders of the church) for surgery. I don’t ask them to fly an airplane for me or design a bridge or a cancer treatment for someone I love. I go to trustworthy medical experts to get medical advice and treatment. I look at high-quality research and question my doctor’s advice when warranted. (I am trained as a researcher, though not in medicine.) But last I read (and these numbers are likely outdated by the time you read this) over 200 million Americans had received Covid-19 vaccines with fewer harmful side effects than (get this) taking aspirin(!) (according to trustworthy experts in disease). On the other hand, the danger of Covid-19 is very clear. It is a fire raging through those who remain unvaccinated and uninfected by previous disease. There are well over 600 thousand dead Americans so far, and many more suffering long-term damage to their health and well-being. Over 8000 died in the last week alone – and they’re getting younger. ICU staff are often overworked and stressed with many hospitals having few, if any, available ICU beds. Today I heard a reliable report of a man who died in an emergency room after a fruitless 7-hour search for an available ICU bed! He didn’t have Covid-19; but all the ICU beds were taken by Covid-19 patients.
(I don’t mean to ignore the millions of non-American casualties – but the anti-vax community I interact with is American, and the vaccines for which I have data are the American vaccines.)
The choice to get one of the Covid-19 vaccinations should be an easy decision for anyone. For a follower of Jesus trying to show love and care for his or her community it should be crystal clear…. except that apparently many American Christians do not find it so clear. I’m writing for them and those who care for them.
There are those promoting nutritional supplements and the like for financial gain. There is no evidence that nutritional supplements provide anything like the immunity to Covid-19 that is provided by vaccination, and much evidence that it does not. Those indicating otherwise are simply wrong. They are motivated by something other than truth.
Are there those who financially gain from vaccination? Of course there are! And we need to watch carefully that the best interests of our communities are well-served in the face of these interests. In the meantime, the fruit of the vaccination tree is very, very good. Will our current vaccines remain effective in the face of new variants of the virus? That remains to be seen. Will booster shots be needed? Most likely, it seems. We will need to watch and listen to those medical experts who are not financially vested in the vaccine industry who prove to be trustworthy advisors. Covid-19 is a new threat, and humanity is still learning how to combat it.
There is a social movement within which vaccine avoidance seems a prominent mark of membership. This is a dangerous (but not new) phenomenon. The pressure that is mounting for vaccination may well harden this movement into even deeper opposition. I hope that the fruit of health versus suffering and death will be properly noted and this phenomenon will be minimized, for the sake of our communities. It’s a horrible thing to watch loved ones march to the beat of deadly drummers. It’s even worse when this phenomenon takes over Christian groups and is used by the evil one to make those following Jesus look foolish.
I hear that we must not give up our freedom – that we must be free to decide what to inject – or not inject – into our own bodies. Well, yes…. but if you choose not to take the vaccine, it is the right of your community to protect itself from your bad choice. You are endangering others – co-workers, customers, patients, students – by your choice. Avoiding your proximity is not forcing a needle into your arm. It is you facing the consequences of your choice.
I see people pointing at those who received a vaccine and then had a health problem. See! Vaccination is dangerous! It is natural to associate the health problem with the vaccine if it comes after vaccination; however more consideration is needed to arrive at the truth of the situation.
Let’s take any set of say, 1 million people. A certain number of them will have a stroke in the next few days. Others will have heart attacks and other health problems. Now, give that same set of 1 million people a vaccination. A certain number of them will still have a stroke in the next few days, but now those near the stroke victim will tend to associate the stroke with the vaccination. Are more of the 1 million having strokes (or whatever) after the vaccinations than would have had strokes anyway? This is the important question.
Let’s take this example of 1 million people being vaccinated a step farther. Let’s say that 1000 additional people have a particular medical problem after receiving the vaccine than would have had that problem without the vaccine. OK, we’ve established that there might be a danger related to receiving the that vaccination. 1000 additional medical issues seems pretty bad. So is the vaccination worth this risk?
We have to look at the whole picture. If the chance of getting the disease is (for example) 20%, and 10% of those who get the disease have those same medical issues or worse, that must be considered as we evaluate the risks associated with taking the vaccine. A little math: 20% of 1 million is 200 thousand. 10% of 200 thousand is 20,000. So, in this example, the chance of the medical problem is much higher if one does not get the vaccination even with the increased chance due to the vaccine. It’s 20,000 to 1000, or 20 to 1!
The problem here is that we live in a world with disease. Our choice is not simply vaccine or no vaccine. It is vaccine or diseased-world-without-vaccine. What the increased chance of medical problems should drive is more research to find out how the vaccine might increase risk and how we can reduce or eliminate this risk. In the meantime, the prudent course is to take the vaccine anyway because living unvaccinated in the world with the disease is more risky than vaccination! It is the responsibility of medical authorities to evaluate these things and determine when vaccinations are warranted. It is big news if they fail in this, and we will certainly (in our society) hear about it from competent medical experts.
In my example above, the numbers are made up. There is nothing like this amount of risk associated with the any of our Covid-19 vaccines – with 200 million doses worth of experience in this country alone! There is, however, enough risk associated with Covid-19 that it regularly overfills hospitals and morgues.
Propaganda exploits the tendency to associate any health issue that comes after vaccination with the vaccine. I see it frequently. Recently, I’ve seen the “meme” of a young woman who developed myocarditis after vaccination. This is known to be a danger with one particular vaccine – though less of a danger than with Covid-19 itself. My question is, why is the story circulating attached to a picture of an attractive, scantily-dressed young woman in a hospital bed with wires running everywhere? I think: this is propaganda, not a serious pursuit of truth. And yet I see Christian friends promoting and sharing this article! This is irresponsible. (If you’d like to pursue responsible participation in social media more thoroughly, I recommend Alan Jacob’s excellent book How to Think.)
If you care about your community or even just your own health (selfishly speaking), get fully vaccinated against Covid-19. I know that many are part of communities where it is the fashion to “say no to the jab!” You may not only be part of such a community; you may value it highly. It’s family. Spiritual family. And yet…. Jesus calls us to be salt and light – as yeast spreading through our communities. It is truth that sets us free. You can be an agent of truth in your community by showing your care through vaccination. That’s a God-calling. That’s love. Human beings are living the image of God that He placed in us when we develop medical treatments and vaccines to care for one another. The Covid-19 vaccine project is a remarkable, historic achievement that reveals the glory of God, whether those who worked on it realize this or not (and many do)! The rest of us also carry His image well when we think clearly and resist being driven by powers and principalities of a fallen world. Let’s love one another and carry His image well!