In April of 2020, shortly after lockdowns were implemented, I remember talking to someone about this new pandemic and how it would affect our everyday lives. She told me she had heard that we might not be through the worst of it until July, and I thought, "No way we are going to be doing this for four months!" Almost a year later there finally seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. New COVID cases seem to be on the decline and the strain on hospitals appears to be diminishing. That is all good news. It would seem that the introduction of multiple new vaccines into the market is one of the chief factors in this decline. However, there is still a significant amount of confusion, especially amongst Christians, when it comes to vaccines. Are they safe? Are they ethical? Are they effective? Should I get one? When can I get one? Of course, the answers to these questions often depend on who you ask.
For the past year, one of my chief resources for all things COVID related has been our own Dr. Chris Wilbers. Chris' wisdom and guidance have been instrumental in our ability at All Saints to continue operating safely over the past year. Lately many people have come to me with questions about the COVID vaccine, and while I enjoyed science classes in high school and college I am by no means an expert. So, I have asked Dr. Wilbers to help answer some of these questions for us. Below you will find an article that Chris has submitted, which is an adaptation of an article from the BioLogos.org website, which can be found by clicking here.
I am also including a list of resources that Dr. Wilbers has put together on vaccination eligibility and how to sign up to receive a vaccine.
Finally, it is important for people to understand that this is meant to be a resource and not a position paper. I have talked to many in our congregation who have received or are waiting to receive a vaccine, and I have talked to others who are not planning to be vaccinated. This is a decision that each person needs to make in consultation with his or her own doctor. Our goal here is to provide information and guidance from both a theological and medical perspective. The opinions expressed in the following article are those of Dr. Wilbers and not necessarily the official stance of All Saints.
Reasons Christians Should Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
Christopher Wilbers, MD
(adapted from BioLogos.org*)
The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on All Saints Anglican Church. Precious times of Christian fellowship have been severely curtailed to help limit the risk of spread of the virus within the congregation. Many of us are longing for personal contact and conversations with our brothers and sisters. One of the best things we can all do to help get back together safely is to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as each one of us is eligible.
As a Christian physician, I have spent a lot of time considering the risks, benefits, and the ethical considerations of the currently available vaccines. I know there are still many people with questions and uncertainty, and I have addressed many of those same concerns with my own patients. Below is my adaptation of information from BioLogos.com that I felt addressed many of the most common concerns. Here are 6 reasons to say “yes” to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as we become eligible:
1. COVID-19 VACCINES ARE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE
Misinformation and conspiracy theories abound on social media, making people feel uncertain and worried. However, allvaccines in the US are required to go through a rigorous testing and approval process. The process was accelerated for COVID-19 vaccines, but NOT by shortcutting the research. Rather, companies were paid to produce millions of doses early, in hope that their vaccines would prove effective. As Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a committed Christian, points out, all of the data are publicly available and transparent. Dr. Collins vouches for the new vaccines and was one of the first to receive the shot.
2. PROTECT OTHERS AS WELL AS YOURSELF
Many people are not yet medically able to take the vaccine, such as those in cancer treatment, those with compromised immune systems, and (for now) children. When you get the vaccine, you help build up the “community immunity” that protects others. If large numbers of people are vaccinated, COVID won’t be able to spread to the most vulnerable among us. (More details can be found on BioLogos’ “Common Question on vaccines” page.) Thousands of Christians have committed to following public health guidelines in BioLogos’ Christian Statement on Science in Pandemic Times. The statement was signed by medical and faith leaders from different Christian traditions, different parts of the country, and different political parties, yet all agree that masks and vaccination are ways to love our neighbors. (I am signatory number 4,380!)
3. THE SOONER THE BETTER
Widespread vaccination is the fastest and most permanent way we know of to stop the spread of coronavirus. Over half a million people in the United States have already died of COVID-19 and millions more have become sick. Many others are struggling – those who have lost jobs, the lonely, those suffering mental illness, the healthcare workers serving on the front lines, and the teachers and kids dealing with online school. The sooner we stamp down this virus, the sooner we can return to baseline. You can help your community by getting the vaccine as soon as you are eligible.
4. MOST CURRENT COVID-19 VACCINES ARE ETHICAL
Many Christians are concerned about the possible use of fetal cells in vaccines. The good news is that NONE of the vaccines contain human cells. Moreover, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not use human cells even in the production process. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine (and others not available in the US) does use a human cell line in production; this is an immortalized cell line that originated from a baby aborted in 1985 (the abortion was not performed for the purpose of harvesting these cells). The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines did utilize this type of cell line for some testing purposes at one phase of development, but such utilization has ended and is not part of the ongoing production process. In all these cases, the cells in use today are many generations descended from the original fetal cells, and were never part of an actual human body. The most conservative Christian theologians and ethicists have some concerns about the ethical implications of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine production process, but there is substantial agreement that the Pfizer and Moderna process should not make these vaccines off-limits for Christians. BioLogos has more information on their “Common Question on vaccines” page. The Charlotte Lozier Institute has detailed information about the cell lines used in all the currently available vaccines and top vaccine candidates here: https://lozierinstitute.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-covid-19-vaccine/.
5. THE DISEASE IS RISKIER THAN THE VACCINE
No vaccine is 100% risk-free, just as no medicine or medical procedure is risk-free. Christians need to weigh the risks on both sides. COVID-19 is a serious disease, much more dangerous than influenza. By now we have all known people who have had it. While many do have mild cases, others have serious symptoms, hospitalization, and long-term complications. Deaths from COVID-19 have become less frequent as care has improved, but it remains an unpredictable risk for all, and a serious risk for the elderly and those with certain health conditions (e.g. obesity, diabetes, immune system compromise, COPD, and other chronic lung conditions). The vaccine is dramatically less risky than the disease. Most vaccine “side effects” are mild (e.g. a day or two of fatigue, sore arm, mild headache, low-grade fever) and actually are NORMAL INDICATORS THAT THE IMMUNE SYSTEM HAS BEEN ACTIVATED. In other words, these are not truly side effects; rather, they are signs that our body is doing its job to create immunity! More information about vaccine risks can be on this “Common Question on vaccines” page.
6. GETTING VACCINATED EXPRESSES LOVE OF NEIGHBOR
The apostle James specifically exhorts Christians to care for the BODIES of others as an expression of faith working through love. Here is how he puts it in James 2:14–17: What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
James uses the example of food and drink, but the principle is that if we as Christians have it in our power to bless the bodies of others (that is to help provide for their physical well-being), faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love them by doing so, and not just offer spiritual comfort or emotional encouragement. In this pandemic, so many have felt so powerless to do something to make a difference. Many of us have recognized that wearing a mask to reduce the spread of potentially infectious respiratory particles to others is an expression of neighbor love. In the same way, if MY vaccination can help protect YOU, then my vaccination becomes an expression of care for the well-being of my neighbors. The obligation (debt) of love we owe to others is not canceled because there is some discomfort, cost, humiliation, or risk for us. Remember Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan? And the apostle Paul considered it his glory when he was given the opportunity to suffer for the benefit of the churches with which he was involved.
So, let’s keep praying for those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Let’s keep caring for our neighbors through this crisis. May we Christians be known as the people most wise in discerning science, most courageous in fighting for justice, and most compassionate in caring for the sick. We should be the ones most willing to make sacrifices for the sake of others, following not just in the footsteps of St. Paul, but in those of Jesus Christ. Vaccination is a concrete way you can care for your family, your church, and your community.
How to Register to Receive a COVID-19 Vaccine
In the state of Missouri, a good starting place is the Missouri COVID-19 Vaccine Navigator. By registering there, you can determine what vaccination phase you fall into, and the state will notify you when persons in your phase are eligible to receive the vaccine. Here is the link:
At the Springfield-Greene County Health Department site, you can sign up for vaccine updates:
The Springfield-Greene County Health Department site also has the following links to register for vaccination. Some of the links will only allow you to register if you are eligible under the currently open phases in Missouri:
The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.