For the past few days, we have been entertained by the ongoing tussle between the world’s #1 tennis player Novak Djokovic and the Australian government. Innumerable memes punning his name with the issue of vaccinations have been doing the rounds on social media. Yet, jokes aside, there is still quite a serious divide among the population at large, and within Christian circles, as to the appropriate stance towards the COVID vaccines.
Djokovic is not alone in his unwillingness to be vaccinated, though some of the reasons cited sometimes seem quite bizarre.
Those who oppose the vaccine, and more specifically some Christians, cite the haste seen in the development of the vaccines, the unknown side-effects, the origins of the cells used to test and develop the vaccine, as well as government overreach. Those who support vaccination see the quick development of the vaccine as an answer to prayer, and the rollout of the vaccine as good governance. To borrow a phrase from the time of Ezekiel and Chuck Colson, “How now shall we live?” For the record, I am not a scientist or a doctor, just trying to be wise in the face of uncertainty and am doubly vaccinated.
Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, US, one of the world’s leading scientists and a follower of Jesus, agrees that the speed of the vaccine development is ‘unprecedented’ 1 ; yet though he says, “In just eleven months with the most rigorous analysis that’s ever been done of a new vaccine, we were able to see that they actually were safe and 95% effective in preventing disease, but no corners were cut”.
He also weighs in on unknown side-effects, as the time to study the virus itself has been less than two years. Yes, as with every other vaccine, one must weigh the odds of possible sideeffects with the certainty of the effects of contracting the disease. However, given that almost everyone knows someone personally who has died from the pandemic or is suffering from its long-term effects, the risks of the vaccine seem very small in comparison.
Christians, and pro-lifers in particular, have been concerned about the use of fetal cells in the vaccine. Dr.Collins explains that a cell line used in laboratories for the past fifty years, but originally derived from a fetal cell, has been used in the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
However, there are no cells in the vaccine itself. The Catholic church has looked into this very carefully and concluded that it is entirely ethical and moral for Christians to take advantage of these vaccines.
What about the infringement of our personal rights? Perhaps a question to the question would be the best answer? What about your neighbour’s rights? Do we not, as Jesus has commanded, have a responsibility to love our neighbour? Can we then honestly say we are loving our neighbour if we put him or her at risk by our unwillingness to vaccinate? To quote Dr.Collins again, “This is not just about yourself; it is about your family, your friends, your neighbours. This is a moment to love your neighbour.”
May the Lord give each one wisdom to make the right choice even as we pray for the end to the pandemic.
1 A conversation with Dr. Francis Collins – by Curtis Chang, Redeeming Babel