Monday, September 20, 2021

Would Luke, the Beloved Physician, Take and Give COVID Shots?

This month, one of our former seminarians who had blessed our church with his musical talent each Sunday during his studies, returned to visit on a sentimental journey, catching up with all of us who had loved him during his seminary days. He was in healing, for this past year, his 70-year-old father had died of the Coronavirus’s Delta variant. The tragedy of this loss heightened when he revealed how it happened. The family is musically gifted, and his mother was in the church choir. One day, she and the other members attended practice. Neither they, nor the music minister, were aware that he had contracted Covid-19’s Delta strain. As a result, the entire choir came down with the coronavirus. Mother brought it home and gave it to Father. Neither of them had taken any Covid vaccines. Mother suffered from the disease and recovered; Father died. Father had been a devout believer who had nurtured his family in the faith, including this son who was now serving in a parachurch ministry, with a first child on the way. But Father was summarily cut off by plague, no longer to see his son using the ministry skills he helped him learn, or to see his grandchild grow up in the faith. Christians, no matter how devout, are not immune from disease or from death.

All of us know this fact, or at least we should, since no one who was born in the 1800s, no matter how pious and godly a life she or he lived is still alive and thriving among us today. In fact, as of this writing, according to Google, the oldest person currently alive, when Google last checked, is “a Japanese woman named Kane Tanaka, who was born on January 2nd, 1903, making her 118 years and 179 days old as of June 30th, 2021”[1]

All Christians know from Hebrews 9:27 that what “is destined [apokeimai] to humans [anthropos] is once to die, and with this judgement. In the same way [outōs] also Christ once was offered [prospherō] to take away [anapherō] the sins in many” [Heb. 9:27-28].[2] The interim question about which most of us wonder is: how long will we live on this earth and when will we die?

The Apostle Paul took health issues seriously and was deeply concerned for the wellbeing of his friends (Phil. 2: 25-27). Paul assumed that, just as no sane person hates his own body but cares for it, a husband should care for his wife as Christ cares for the church (Eph. 5:29). So Paul valued caring for one’s own body and those of others. Paul even gives health advice to the young Timothy, whom Paul appointed to work among the Ephesians, counseling him, “No longer drink only water, but a little [or small amount, oligos] wine employ [chraomai] on account of the stomach and the numerous [or frequent, puknos] diseases.” Ancient medicine may not have known specifically about germs, but it did observe the value of purification.

Given this perspective, we were initially surprised to read what seemed to us like shocking news that, in facing the reality of the devastation of the coronavirus, “White Evangelicals Resist Covid-19 Vaccine Most Among Religious Groups: Nearly one-quarter don’t want shot, new study finds, and church leaders face hurdles persuading them.” The Wall Street Journal, conveying the results of surveys by Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core, observed, “More than six months into the country’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign, evangelical Christians are more resistant to getting the vaccine than other major religious groups, according to newly released data.” Since, “Evangelicals of all races make up about one-quarter of the U.S. population…health officials say persuading them to get the shot is crucial to slowing the spread of the Delta variant fueling recent increases in Covid-19 cases.” Reportedly, health officials conclude, “White evangelicals are tied for the lowest figure among groups included in the survey, along with Hispanic protestants, many of whom are evangelical.” [3]

Sometimes that hesitation turns into outright hostility, as Maine discovered, when “a national Christian organization filed a lawsuit against Gov. Janet Mills and several of the state’s largest health care organizations over Maine’s requirement that health care workers get the COVID-19 vaccine or risk losing their jobs.” An organization called “Liberty Counsel,” also representing a church in Orrington Maine, and “an employee of Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, who …asked MaineHealth if she could receive a religious exemption for the vaccine on Aug. 17,” and, to whom, “MaineHealth replied that state policy required that it deny her request.” As a result, Liberty Counsel explained, “it was representing more than 2,000 health care workers across the state in the lawsuit,” observing, “while employees can get out of the vaccine requirement with a medical exemption, there is no religious exemption in the policy. Liberty Counsel believes the lack of such an exemption violates federal law,” since “health care workers are protected from receiving vaccinations they oppose for religious reasons under the Civil Rights Act of 1964” and “The policy also violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.” [4]

The response of many in the watching world to the exercise of such fervent and sincere convictions is captured in this NBC News headline: “As Covid cases surge, unvaccinated Americans trigger scorn, resentment from many vaccinated people: Hopes are getting dashed for a summer that feels more like pre-pandemic years. Now, another feeling has overcome many of the vaccinated: contempt.” In this well-researched article, Erik Ortiz cites Keisha Bryan, a psychotherapist near Raleigh, North Carolina, who expresses the frustration well: “I find myself doing all of these extra things and being thoughtful, because I learned from my grandmother to not just care for yourself but care for your neighbor"… "Now I'm getting to the place where I'm angry — angry that I see other people not doing the same, not getting vaccinated when they can. Don't we all want to get back to normal?" In a similar vein, a responder to the article Molly Knight observes that “personal right” imprisons everyone in this plague, “hurting everyone else. I’m so angry” (@molly_knight), while Steve Moore expresses his “unmitigated anger” at “the stupidity and the selfishness” (@Smoore1117). Alabama’s Republican Governor Kay Ivey pleads, "It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down…These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain," plunging her state to the bottom of the vaccinated list, while more direct is Californian Elise Power, who simply confides, "It makes you want to smack people upside the head."[5] These vaccinated neighbors speak for countless others both on the net and off.

But in the face of such reasonable and understandable expressions of frustration and anger, we realize that, while selfishness and stupidity can be assigned to some of the unvaccinated, deeper reasons fuel why so many thoughtful people put their lives at risk and refuse vaccination. What are the reasons they give? Wondering ourselves, we asked several friends, both evangelicals and Roman Catholics whom we respect as sensitive and caring people, why they don’t put themselves at safety by taking the free shots. The answers we were told are provocative and interesting. I have categorized the responses under five major recurring categories: concerns about safety, influence of conspiracy theories, fear of inoculations, religious convictions, and morality issues. And, I end by asking, would physician Luke take and give vaccines today?

1.     1. Vaccines in General, and These in Particular, Are Not Safe

There’s nothing like a bad experience to cool someone’s enthusiasm about experimental drugs. Unexpected allergies can accomplish that. A dear friend, an educator with a master’s degree, shared this reflection with us on February 12, 2021: “My parents got the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. My dad did fine but my mom had a severe reaction. She fainted, had a high fever, became completely disoriented and vomited. This lasted for two days. It was very scary. She has recovered now but I am strongly encouraging her to not take the second dose. Because of her reaction, I have looked more into the vaccine. The vaccines are still in experimental form. They are for emergency use and even say on the packaging that they are not approved by the FDA. They change your body and you can't detox from them. Also, my friend who is a pharmacist said that people on blood thinners, have diabetes, or any form of cancer should not get the vaccine. Johnson and Johnson is working on a traditional vaccine for COVID which is not the mRNA. If you want to take the vaccine, I would highly recommend waiting until this becomes available.”

On August 23, 2021, the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine.[6] On December 12, 2020, the Moderna COVID- 19 Vaccine was issued “emergency use authorization” and, although emendations were made to its fact sheets on June 25 and August 12, 2021, at this writing it still retains that status[7]. On February 27, 2021, the FDA also granted “emergency use authorization,” to the Johnson & Johnson/ Janssen Vaccine.[8]

However, having such a physical reaction in her family encouraged our friend to explore other means in case she and her children share the same proclivity for a similar reaction: “As a preventative, we have been taking vitamin D along with Quercetin, which acts in the body like hydroxychloroquine with a multivitamin that contains zinc. We have not taken the vaccine and will not get it.”

By August 22, 2021, these convictions had become family policy: “We feel the risks of the vaccines outweigh the benefits. We have found that there are very effective treatments if you do get COVID. These include Ivermectin, and a protocol using hydroxychloroquine. We make sure we are staying up on our vitamins, especially vitamin D and C and we also take Quercetin on a daily basis.…I would say in our circles it is very divided, as some have taken the vaccine and some have chosen not to.”

Such a severe reaction to the vaccine as her mother experienced is certainly a sobering reaction that must be taken into consideration. At the same time, factoring into this discussion, is an even more sobering response to Covid itself. As CNN’s Holly Yan, CNN reports,

“Young people can get long-term Covid-19 complications. Young, healthy people have turned into Covid-19 ‘long-haulers,’ suffering chronic fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath and brain fog months after their infection.” In fact,” she reports, “7 in 10 people hospitalized for Covid-19 haven't fully recovered five months after discharge,” and “A study this year found that 30% of people who had Covid-19 still had symptoms up to nine months after infection.” [9] We ourselves know a young man in his early 40s who apparently contacted Covid in January 2019 when it first arrived in the USA and has suffered since from residual Covid symptoms off and on for two years now. Although healthy before, he has been in and out of the hospital ever since with everything from shortness of breath to digestive issues. Covid-19’s long term effects are one of the main reasons to avoid it.

As for our friend, she is, indeed, a devout Evangelical Christian, but what is worth noting here is her explanation for her family’s motivation: “Our reason for not taking it is from the research that we have done rather than for a Biblical reason.”

A non-Evangelical Roman Catholic neighbor and dear friend up the street also decided to seek out alternative medicine solutions, calling them “more natural.” Her reasons also were not driven by her faith.

Our well-informed friends’ hopes for an alternative to the present vaccines, of course, may not turn out to be merely wishful thinking. At this writing, Florida and Texas are investigating the use of antibodies to stop the coronavirus’s devastating effects, According to CNBC’s Robert Towey, “The FDA granted Regeneron’s treatment an emergency use authorization in November. The agency said it reduced Covid hospitalizations ‘in patients at high risk for disease progression within 28 days after treatment.’” And “GlaxoSmithKline just won emergency approval for its treatment with Vir Biotechnology in May, saying it reduced hospitalizations and death in high-risk patients by about 85%.”[10]

This is an impressive, heartening report and certainly a cause for rejoicing. At the same time, however, these reports of success are confined to treatment for those who already have contracted the coronavirus and are not necessarily preventive drugs to keep one from being infected with this plague. Whether they can become preventative remains to be seen. For now, they appear to be operating in a different sphere than the vaccines and are not their competitive replacement. The vaccines are effective as preventative drugs which can protect one from the disease or make its onslaught minimal. The antibody treatments are applied to cases of Covid-19 already inset in one’s body and can neutralize the disease’s effects. So, the current vaccines and these antibodies treatments may be regarded, at this point, as companion not competitive resources.

Further, numerous other reasons for a reluctance to take the vaccines have emerged that  have nothing to do with one’s religion. For instance, Los Angeles Times columnist Erika D. Smith laments the fact that “millions of mostly left-leaning Black Americans — and more than half of Black Californians — remain unvaccinated.” She points out that many minorities are wary of government intrusion based on a long social history of manipulation and betrayal. As a result, she cautions, “Let’s not fall into the narrative that all of those who haven’t been vaccinated are conservative Trump supporters who have been brainwashed by Fox News.” She explains, “I also can’t merely write off fearful Black people as lacking common sense when I know that their personal experience has taught them to be suspicious of authority. Not when I know that, decades after the Tuskegee syphilis study, Black Americans still don’t receive medical care on par with white Americans. Disparities abound in everything from maternal death rates to the treatment of chronic pain.”[11]

No religious dimension plays into this sobering insight.

One middle-aged Anglo friend, married to an African nurse who shares his convictions, seemed to speak for many to whom we’ve talked who questioned the effectiveness of the vaccines when he put it this way: “Vaccines aren’t safe and I don’t want to be a guinea pig of Big Pharma!”

Although this Evangelical does not offer a religious reason for his reluctance, historically, American theology may well offer a legacy for not trusting vaccines. Most scholars of all Christian persuasions regard Jonathan Edwards as the greatest USA theologian. A writer, thinker, pastor, and a forward-thinking missionary to the Native American population, rare in his time, as missiologist Alex Dodson notes: “Edwards loved the Indians and sought their good in his ministry with them. He and David Brainerd had the same outlook and concern for them as indicated by Iain Murray when he wrote, ‘Both knew that true Christian love is practical and both cared for the Indians as people.’” Jonathan Edwards inherited his admiration from “Edwards’ grandfather [Solomon] Stoddard, and his uncle John Stoddard, both spoke of much that was to be admired among the Indians, especially their skillful adaptation to their environment. They were good hunters, farmers, artists, and boatmen, ‘but the chief ornament of them was their hospitality’ (p. 393 – Jonathan Edwards…). To say that Edwards cared only for their souls and not for them as people would be an untrue statement.”[12] Not only modern in this regard, Jonathan Edwards was a scientific thinker, embracing new scientific advances: “Edwards accepted an appointment as President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) in 1757. He died from complications arising from a smallpox inoculation on March 22, 1758, less than five weeks after his inauguration.”[13]

A resulting fear of such inoculations may not have entirely calmed over the centuries, especially when being bolstered by headlines like this one from July 23, 2021: “27 fully vaccinated people have died in Tennessee, health department says.” According to Nashville’s WZTV’s Kaylin Jorge, “The Tennessee Department of Health reports 27 fully vaccinated people have died from COVID-19. These are among the state's more than 1,000 ‘breakthrough’ cases. These are cases in which fully vaccinated people have contracted the virus. Data is sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. TDH Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said Friday more than two dozen deaths since May 1 and 195 hospitalizations among breakthrough cases. Including dates before May 1, there have been more than 1,000 breakthrough COVID-19 cases, the state reported. Piercey said more than half of the breakthrough cases are those 60 and older and of that group they're most likely to have breakthrough cases, but most have not had severe illness.”[14]

Or consider this recent CNBC report, entitled, “CDC study shows 74% of people infected in Massachusetts Covid outbreak were fully vaccinated.” According to this research, “About three-fourths of people infected in a Massachusetts Covid-19 outbreak were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus with four of them ending up in the hospital, according to new data published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The new data, published in the U.S. agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also found that fully vaccinated people who get infected carry as much of the virus in their nose as unvaccinated people.”

But a closer examination of the data reveals the onsets were not life-threatening, “Overall, 274 vaccinated patients with a breakthrough infection were symptomatic, according to the CDC. The most common side effects were cough, headache, sore throat, muscle pain and fever. Among five Covid patients who were hospitalized, four were fully vaccinated, according to the agency. No deaths were reported.”[15] The encouraging note is that cases of coronavirus in the vaccinated are usually more mild for those who have had the shots, as noted in this second article, although, for those over 60 years of age, there is no guarantee in what the first article reports. However, an even brighter piece of news for the vaccinated, issued from the CDC on August 13, 2021, is: “Among adults aged 65–74 years, effectiveness of full vaccination for preventing hospitalization was 96% for Pfizer-BioNTech, 96% for Moderna, and 84% for Janssen COVID-19 vaccines; among adults aged 75 years, effectiveness of full vaccination for preventing hospitalization was 91% for Pfizer-BioNTech, 96% for Moderna, and 85% for Janssen COVID-19 vaccines.”[16]

In contrast are reports of regret by unvaccinated victims of Covid, like this Myrtle Beach, South Carolina woman who experienced a “Change of heart for self-described 'anti-vaxxer' after month-long COVID-19 hospitalization.” She reflects, “I never imagined it would happen to me…I was in the hospital twice; very close to being ventilated…I thought I was going to die. I could not breathe. I could not catch my breath…I'm relatively young, healthy and work out five to six times a week…I never imagined it would do this to my body." Although she reports, "I've always been anti-vaccine, I'm more of a natural health person. I have trusted my immune system. This has made me question that…My husband did get vaccinated because of this…I'm definitely hesitant but I'm leaning towards it.” And now she recommends to others, "Social distance, wear a mask, and do whatever it takes to avoid this"[17]

In fact, New York state’s adds this data: “A recent survey by ABC News of 17 hospitals in 50 states revealed that about 94% of the patients in ICUs were unvaccinated. Those findings reflect the national trend. It’s worth noting, too, that vaccinated patients who get critically ill typically have other health issues, ranging from immunocompromising diseases to frailty.[18]

Today, we are still being assured “the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 in people who received two doses and had no evidence of being previously infected.”[19]The Moderna vaccine was 94.1% effective,” according to the CDC,[20] Johnson & Johnson reports its Janssen/Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been demonstrated as “85% effective,”[21] although the World Health Organization website still maintains, “The J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine was 66.3% effective in clinical trials (efficacy) at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection in people who received the vaccine and had no evidence of being previously infected.”[22]

Also worth noting is that scientists all over the world working on coronavirus solutions new vaccines are being developed. On September 20, 2021, The Times of Israel reported the BriLife vaccine, developed by “NRx Pharmaceuticals, the American-Israeli clinical-stage pharmaceutical company tapped two months ago by the Israeli Defense Ministry to manufacture and market the country’s vaccine developed by the government-run Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) in Ness Ziona,” is now “in Phase IIb/III trials.”[23]

One thing worth keeping in mind is that no one to whom we talked who raised the question of being a guinea pig or who questioned the effectiveness of the vaccines raised any theological dimension that influenced their hesitation to be vaccinated.

2.     Conspiracy Theories Have a Role in Avoiding COVID Precautions

When Georgia’s Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene compared wearing mask rules to Hitler’s requirements of wearing gold stars,[24] she drew impassioned responses. For example, Ms. Imran Ahmad charged: “Now, just weeks after she visited the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Greene, a QAnon conspiracy theorist, has doubled down on the antisemitism by calling those leading the federal effort for COVID vaccinations ‘medical brown shirts,’ a reference to the paramilitary operation that helped Adolf Hitler take power.”[25]

In response, Marjorie Greene said, “I have made a mistake and it's really bothered me for a couple weeks now,’ Greene told a news conference. She added that ‘there's nothing comparable’ to the Holocaust and ‘I know the words I stated were hurtful and for that I am very sorry.’"[26] However, her opposition to mandated Covid protection had apparently not waned, for a month later she was back in the news, “Marjorie Taylor Greene, Other GOP Lawmakers Sue Pelosi Over Mask Penalties: The Georgia Congresswoman, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina were fined $500 for not wearing masks.” [27] While her analogy changed, her anti-mask attitude did not. Where did this originate and why is it so strong that she would risk a fine to reject masked protection against Covid-19 and its variants and, by example, encourage those whom she represents to follow suit?

Back in February, a link to a hyper human rights conspiracy theory movement suggests one possible genesis for her opposition to government suggestions for restrictions. That month, she hit the headlines with an explosion. In a spate of interviews from Vanity Fair (“Marjorie Taylor Greene: I Only Believe Some of What QAnon Says About Dems Being Satanic Pedophile Cannibals, Okay?” [28]) to CNBC (Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene expresses some regret about conspiracy claims ahead of vote to punish her”) she confided, “she regrets some of the false conspiracy theories she had promoted in the past, including her expressions of support for QAnon. ‘I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true and I would ask questions about them and talk about them…and that is absolutely what I regret.’” [29]

QAnon, a conspiracy theory movement, had hit prominence during former President Trump’s bid for a recount of the vote that put President Biden in office instead and the storming of Washington by supporters wearing everything from flags to horns and Odinist trappings, apparently fueled by QAnon posts and directives. Although its media presence has waned,[30] far from over, QAnon appears in such recent events as an August 31, 2021 QAnon rally in Maine, expressing itself against the wearing of masks and taking vaccinations, though its impact was marred by the news that “The conspiracy theorist who organized a far-right event calling for an audit of Maine’s 2020 election results in Belfast last month has died from COVID-19. Robert David Steele, a former CIA officer turned promoter of far-right QAnon conspiracy theories, was hospitalized earlier this month after he began displaying symptoms of COVID-19 according to Vice News. ‘I will not take the vaccination, though I did test positive for whatever they’re calling ‘COVID’ today, but the bottom line is that my lungs are not functioning,’ Steele wrote in an Aug. 17 blog post. A friend confirmed Steele’s death in a Sunday Instagram post that also suggested his illness was ‘very suspicious.’”[31]

An interesting addition to the question of religious involvement in the question of coronavirus protection hesitations is what appears to be a largely Moslem-scholar-driven survey article on the Plos One website, which concluded, “Rumors and conspiracy theories, can contribute to vaccine hesitancy.” The thoroughly researched findings reported, “We identified 637 COVID-19 vaccine-related items: 91% were rumors and 9% were conspiracy theories from 52 countries. Of the 578 rumors, 36% were related to vaccine development, availability, and access, 20% related to morbidity and mortality, 8% to safety, efficacy, and acceptance, and the rest were other categories. Of the 637 items, 5% (30/) were true, 83% (528/637) were false, 10% (66/637) were misleading, and 2% (13/637) were exaggerated.”[32] Apparently rumors and conspiracy theories are not a unique North American phenomenon.

3.     “I Don’t Like Needles”

One friend, a burly working man, confided to us, “I never use needles.” As pastors for three decades of a storefront church, working with many generally former heroin addicts, we realize there is a psychological association with needles that make determined ex-addicts step away completely from the use of needles. Others who have never mainlined drugs, like a sweet Latina woman in her 80s, told us, “I don’t like needles. I never take them.” She is not alone. The BBC reports, “A recent study from the University of Oxford suggests that a fear of needles is a major barrier for around 10% of the population.” [33] When I came across the compendium on invasive experiments on soldiers, inmates, patients, and others by compilers Jay Katz, Alexander Morgan Capron, Eleanor Swift Glass, Experimentation with Human Beings: The Authority of the Investigator, Subject, Professions, and State in the Human Experimentation Process (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1972), I was struck once again by the realization that all fear is not necessarily unfounded. The gain from using needle has to be worth the risk. The gain here is protection.

Once again, there was no religious dimension expressed to us to explain the aversion or the fear of permitting needles into one’s body. But this does not mean that we did not finally hear an expression of religious involvement from any of those with whom we talked.

4.     4. “God told me not to fear”

Our dear Latina friend in her mid-80s who did not like needles, told us she was confident in her wellbeing because God had told her not to be afraid. Apparently, she was not alone in her conviction she would be spared.

CNN’s Holly Yan reports, “Among religious groups in the US, white evangelical Protestants stand out as the most likely to say they will refuse to get vaccinated (26%), with an additional 28% who are hesitant," according to a study this spring by the Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core.” She labels this attitude, “My faith will protect me, so I don't need to get vaccinated.'” But, at the same time, she points out, some experts say anti-Covid-19 vaccine sentiment among evangelicals is fueled by a distrust in government, ignorance about how vaccines work and misinformation.[34]

But Christianity Today’s Rebecca Randall| and her team reports, “Evangelicals’ Vaccine Skepticism Isn’t Coming from the Pulpit,” instead, pastors are noting that members of their congregation not choosing to be vaccinated lack trust in the government, and “fear of how vaccines work.” While “Conservative pastors and leaders are encouraging the shot while the people in the pews have been more divided,” one pastor, Aaron Harris, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City, Kansas, explains, “We don’t believe that this is a scriptural issue; it is a personal issue.” He figures half his congregation’s more mature members are vaccinated, but the problem is among younger members. He wisely counsels, “We shouldn’t live in fear of the virus because we do have a faith in eternity. However, just because we aren’t in fear of it, where is the line of what we ought to do?... I’m not going to lay down in front of a bunch of alligators to show my faith in that way.”

Some Christians say they prefer to leave their fate in God’s hands, rather than be vaccinated. One church member from Missouri reasons, “Heaven is so much better than here on earth. Why would we fight leaving here?” Pastor John Elkins of Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria, Texas, also observes that “his congregants’ doubts are not theologically based. ‘It’s skepticism about effectiveness,’” along with lack of trust in the government, and hesitation if vaccines are derived from abortions.[35]

What this tells us and should tell researchers is that identifying conservative skeptics of the vaccines under the title “White Evangelicals” is misleading. If their reluctance has to do with other than biblical or theological reasons then they are simply conservatives. In fact, they are more likely fundamentalists than Evangelicals who conserve religion as part of their conservatism, but not necessarily the driving part. At the same time, as noted, Roman Catholics were represented among our friends who would not take the vaccines. Some cited in the research are unclear about their religious affiliation, or are Moslems or Hindus or heterodoxical fringe groups of any of these religions. In short, if biblical reasons are not cited, the researchers and the press should simply identify this camp under the title “political conservatives.”

As for our mature Latina friend, my wife told her, “Don’t you think that God provided the wisdom to create the vaccines so that you would be safe?” Like the joke that was so popular several years ago about the man in the flood who rejected a car, a boat, and a plane and then drowned, complaining in heaven that God hadn’t saved him to which God replied, “I sent you a car, a boat, and a plane!” Vaccines and masks and social distancing when possible appear to be the wise ways to ensure one’s protection today, especially if one is wise oneself and inquires of one’s medical doctor whether one may have a propensity or allergy to react against the vaccine being contemplated. Masks probably don’t have to be checked out, although someone just complained to us they make one lightheaded since they make it hard for that person to breathe. I suggested lifting up the bottom in a safe direction to let in a little air if one has it on too tightly.

5.     5. Vaccines are immoral since they affect reproduction, change our molecular structure, and are made from aborted human stem cells

A young, newly married, eye, ear, nose, and throat physician in the Dominican Republic told us he has had COVID-19 three times, but won’t take the vaccines because of fear they will affect  his ability to have children due to their rumored ability to change his molecular structure. Reared a Roman Catholic, he recently married an Evangelical Christian woman and his family’s outlook now embraces all three objections above. His concern that the COVID vaccines will affect his reproductive powers are apparently not limited to the Dominican Republic but this is a major concern among the young beyond its borders.

Nebraska Medicine’s “infectious diseases expert” Dr. David Brett-Major, MD, MPH tries to put at rest those with such concerns, when he observes, “The COVID-19 mRNA vaccines now have been in tens of thousands of people and infertility has not been a problem for men or women. Twenty-three women became pregnant after participating in Pfizer's mRNA vaccine clinical trial. Pfizer reported one poor pregnancy outcome in someone in the control/placebo group – meaning they had not received the vaccine.”[36]

As for a question our young friend did not ask, maternal-fetal medicine expert Dr. Teresa Berg, M.D., answered, In the United States, more than 353 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been given. More than 167 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. We have no reason to believe any of the COVID-19 vaccines would harm a developing fetus or a nursing infant. “[37] And, as for changing one’s molecular structure, infectious diseases expert James Lawler, MD, MPH explains, “mRNA vaccines are designed to do their work outside of the nucleus and have not been observed to interact with the nucleus.” So, “No, the vaccines cannot change your DNA.

However, the question of using aborted human cells to make vaccines is a more difficult one for Evangelicals like ourselves who believe in the right for all fetuses struggling into infanthood and then attempting to be born to be allowed to do so in safety.

On the third day of Christmas, 2020, infectious disease expert Dr. James Lawler gave this answer: “The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells.” So, none of us taking the vaccines are receiving aborted human cells. He adds, “However, fetal cell lines – cells grown in a laboratory based on aborted fetal cells collected generations ago – were used in testing during research and development of the mRNA vaccines, and during production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.” Pointing out that the Vatican has struggled with this issue and has come to the same conclusion that he has, he explains, “As a practicing Catholic, I think the moral balance of indirectly benefitting from an abortion that occurred 50 years ago in order to take a vaccine that will prevent further death in the community is a no-brainer – especially considering that so many of the over 620,000 American deaths have occurred in the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society. We need to focus on saving lives right now. We need to care for our neighbors.” He notes that with “Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, fetal cell line HEK 293 was used during the research and development phase. All HEK 293 cells are descended from tissue taken from a 1973 abortion that took place in the Netherlands.”[38]

In Evangelicalism’s most distributed magazine, Christianity Today (CT), Science editor Rebecca Randall| and her colleagues trace the trajectory of the debate in its quarters in her insightful article, “Not Worth a Shot: Why Some Christians Refuse Vaccinations on Moral Grounds: The use of fetal cell lines from the 1960s is another sticking point in the vaccine debate.” “Dr. Matthew Loftus in “Why Christians of All People Should Get Their Vaccines” notes an observation by National Institute of Health director Dr. Francis Collins, who “suggests comparing it to organ donation after a child was shot.” He reasons, “There was a terrible, evil loss of life of that child and yet I think we would all say that if the parents decided and they wanted something good to come of this and gave their consent, that’s a noble and honorable action.” He suggests a parallel of “a parent, after going through a pregnancy termination, deciding that they would like the fetal tissue to actually help somebody.” Dr. Loftus also references “Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council, which last updated a statement in 2015, [which] suggests that Christians have the moral freedom to receive vaccines.” He also reports the Roman Catholic Church’s decision was “that those who receive vaccines are not culpable in the original abortions.” And, he notes, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC)’s observation that “Pro-life proponents of immunization point out that vaccines no longer rely on abortion to provide further fetal cells—and that the initial two abortions were not conducted to supply vaccine makers with fetal tissue in the first place.”[39]

The question of the morality benefiting from an earlier evil is always a difficult one to answer. Particularly, it has been present today as white American males wonder about the cultural entitlement that has given them opportunities not shared by African Americans, Hispanics, and women of all hues and cultures. What is a white male’s responsibility here? Is it to step back and forgo any opportunity based on privilege, or to use one’s opportunities to reach out and help others succeed? The latter path seems straighter to doing something worthwhile than simply dropping out of society.

If we Christians were to follow that second path, we would reason that none of us were involved in the Dutch or Swedish abortions that took place some 60 years ago that produced the thousands of fetal cells in use all over the world today to test vaccines.

We could generalize that argument to all the citizens of the world. Few of us living today were involved in the killings that established so many of our nations by rebellion, invasion, assassination, or overthrow of previous government, unless our country is very new and we were directly involved in the violence that produced it. Yet, all of us reap its benefits, assuming there are any.

We all notice that a child’s social reference usually dates from the moment she or he is born into the world. To a child’s consciousness, nothing really exists before that moment. The world may have predated them, but it was, in effect, black and white and now it is in color. As a child grows, he or she slowly learns that multitudes of dead people determined the context in which that child lives. Coming to terms with that reality, a growing Christian, burdened with a negative and positive history, is called to serve God in the present living moment.

In short, every one of us has come to the genesis of vaccinations late in the flow of our lives. My pro-life, fundamentalist parents knew nothing about how vaccines originated. They made sure I had all the vaccines available and, knowing nothing ourselves, we gave our son all his shots to keep him healthy. Did we all do wrong, by receiving a benefit that may have had evil origins?

This question has been a curious one for me in the puzzle of my heritage. As a mixed blood native American on my Father’s side and the son of a second generation Greek and Czech mother, most of my family was either losing their land or living in the “old country” when the enslavement of Blacks took place in the Americas. I was born with Greek features and white skin favoring my mother’s Greek father. My sister had the black hair, black eyes, tinted skin, and high cheekbones of our father’s native heritage. Because I am white and male and appear to be Anglo American,[40] am I automatically culpable for the benefits to the Anglo American culture of African American enslavement, because our culture has privileged those who appear similar to Anglos (whether they are primarily Anglos in origin or not)?

As I noted, given this context, ethically, I could either choose to drop out of the culture, refusing to progress in education or employment in case I am being enrolled or hired because of residual prejudice, or I can respond by seeing my responsibility as making certain I am making a special effort to treat African Americans, Hispanics, women of all hues and origins, et. al with dignity, creating opportunities as a professor for each of those I have the privilege of teaching in my classes to succeed.

In parallel, with the vaccines, I could either see myself as responsible for a woman’s and doctor’s and researchers’ decisions made abroad decades ago and opt out of the vaccines on moral grounds, or I can choose to vote for and support the welfare of those infants attempting to be born today, protecting them from the great evil of partial birth murder for economic gain. I have chosen the latter choices in each case, because I can’t change the past, but I can change the future. And in the case of vaccines, enough Christians like our seminarian’s father in our opening account have died needlessly. Why should more and more Christians die from the coronavirus in all its strains? We need as many Christians as God calls into the faith to be alive and active and helping God as God reconciles the world to Godself.

So, given all this data, would Luke take and give vaccines today?

Luke (Loukas) is identified by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians 4:14 as the “beloved” (agapētos) “physician” (iatros, a term also used for “one who heals” and “surgeon”[41]). Many variations of the term are listed in Greek-English lexicons to specify the various types of physicians in the ancient world, but Paul uses the general term for Luke, suggesting Luke was a general practitioner. Just as Jesus did not order the centurion of Capernaum to give up his commission in the Roman army before granting his request for healing, but honored him for his faith in Matthew 8:5-10, and did not order Zacchaeus to stop being a tax collector before being willing to enter his home (Luke 19:1-10), so did Paul not order Luke to abandon his occupation as a medical doctor and simply pray over all diseases, but apparently enlisted his skills for his own physical ailments from his arduous ministry and for his and his team’s medical care. As we earlier noted with the use of purifying liquids, ancient medicine employed a variety of healing herbs, natural medicines, operations, and procedures. The combination of prayer with the application of oil in the elders’ intercession on behalf of the sick is explained well in Zondervan’s accessible NIV Archaeological Study Bible: “Oil served a hygienic purpose prior to the invention of soap and shampoo (e.g., anointing the scalp with oils killed head lice). Oils were used medically. Greek physicians regularly massaged patients and athletes with oil, and James 5:14 recommends anointing the sick with oil.”[42] There is no reason to doubt Luke sought God’s healing through prayer while employing the most effective medical knowledge of his day to treat Paul and his coworkers. Likewise, we should pray seriously to assess wisely the ethical issues that surround our health choices, while, at the same time, we should seek what are the most far-reaching salutary benefits for children, women, and men alive today and employ the most effective medical means we have at our current disposal for protecting those we love along with all of our local and global neighbors, for whom God also considers us responsible.

For ourselves, my wife and I went to the local police station, since our town has been blessed by a publicly minded police department of neighbors, and signed up for the Pfizer shots, distributed free at our wonderful public library. Our son, living in a neighboring town, received the Moderna vaccine. We all received the shots with minor reactions and, though we live an active life, traveling inside and outside the country, we wear masks when we enter buildings and have experienced no attacks of Covid-19.

So, what about the five categorical concerns our friends have expressed? We take our friends’ convictions seriously. In our family’s experience, however, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which have been tested thousands of times before we took them, have proved safe. We haven’t perceived wearing marks or taking vaccines as a government ploy for power. Instead, we are grateful for these freely distributed protective measures. With no allergies or other physical impediments, we and our son separately were able to take the Pfizer and Moderna shots. However, Aída has feared needles since her childhood in the Dominican Republic, when needles were routinely dull and painful. Since today needles are sharp, sterilized, one-time-used, and given by professional medical personnel who know what they are doing, she simply turned her head away to avoid seeing the needle enter her body. The pain was a minor pinch, and she considered it worth the gain. None of us see a religious dimension to taking vaccines or wearing masks (and neither do the majority of our reluctant friends). Instead, we see God providing these protections through the wisdom with which God has gifted humanity. At the same time, nothing is perfect in this life and there are few real guarantees, but, as with the smallpox inoculations, treatments improve. And as for the moral issues, these are still tough. Violence in the past is a legacy of a fallen world; our responsibility is not to further it today. Faith is absolutely essential. But faith is only valid if the object of faith is trustworthy. So, we need to use our wisdom and its reasoning capability to know where to invest our faith. Our currency wisely lectures us every time we use it: “In God we trust.” So, as Aída says, “If Physician Luke came to me today with a needle and a smile, I would gladly accept it.” I think that speaks for our son, Steve, and for me as well.

Bill (with input from Aída)

[1] Google, “Who is the oldest living person today?”, updated on July 2, 2021, accessed September 2, 2021.

[2] I am translating all Bible references literally so you can see the force of the actual words, rather than creating a dynamic equivalent that will flow more evenly for English readers.

[4] David Marino Jr., Bangor Daily News, “Religious group sues Gov. Mills over vaccine mandate for health care workers,” , posted August 26th 2021, accessed Sept. 2, 2021.

[6] › news-events › press-announcements, accessed Sept. 3, 2021.

[7] › news-events › press-announcements, see also › coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19, accessed Sept. 3, 2021.

[8] › johnson-johnson-covid-19-vaccine... but has not given full approval to this date because of rare but serious blood clotting ( › coronavirus › 2019-ncov › safety), Sept. 3, 2021.

[9] Holly Yan, CNN, “Covid-19 vaccine myths: These reasons for not getting a shot don't hold up. In fact, they'll set the US back,”, posted July 19, 2021, accessed August 30, 2021.


[10] Robert Towey, CNBC, Florida and Texas open Covid antibody treatment centers as delta surge overwhelms hospitals,”, posted Aug 19 2021, accessed September 14, 2021.


[11]Ericka D. Smith, Los Angeles Times, Column: I wish I could be angry with the unvaccinated. Being Black makes that complicated , posted July 28, 2021 5 AM PT, accessed September 4, 2021.

[12]Alex Dodson, “Jonathan Edwards – Missionary to the American Indians,” OnePlace,, August 29, 2021. Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, Robert T. Handy appear to suggest he was more a victim, “Called to serve as president of Princeton, he submitted to inoculation during a smallpox epidemic, contracted the disease, and died a few weeks after assuming his new duties, A History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985), 4th ed, 610.

[13] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, First posted Jan 15, 2002; substantive revision, Jul 15, 2020, accessed August 29, 2021

[15] Berkeley Lovelace Jr., “CDC study shows 74% of people infected in Massachusetts Covid outbreak were fully vaccinated,”, posted July 30 2021, accessed August 31, 2021.

[16], posted August 6, updated August 13, 2021, accessed Sept. 3, 2021.

[17] Donovan Harris, ABC affiliate station WPDE Staff,,” posted August 25, 2021, accessed Sept. 2,

2021. See also,-

[18]Tim O'Shei, “Pandemic Lessons: How do we get out of this?”, July 31, 2021 Updated Aug 29, 2021, accessed Sept. 19, 2021.

[22]COVID-19, Common question: How effective is the J&J Janssen COVID-19 vaccine? d&q=How+effective+is+the+Johnson+and+Johnson+Covid+vaccine+according+to+the+World+Health+Organization%3F, accessed Sept. 2, 2021.

[23] Ricky Ben-David, The Times of Israel, “Though lagging behind, Israel’s COVID-19 jab hopes to ‘find its place in market: Chairman of NRx, pharmaceutical company completing trials for BriLife, suggests vaccine may even work better against variants.” The article claims, “Whereas the world has been seeing waning effectiveness of the two-dose Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine after six months — a fact that prompted Israel to launch a booster campaign in late July — the IIBR released the results of an initial, small study that showed BriLife, given at a high dose, provides longer-term protection. Some 200 volunteers who received the highest dosage of the vaccine were notified that they did not need a third dose of the vaccine, as their protection remained high six months after getting a second dose,” Posted Sept. 20, 2021, accessed Sept. 20, 2021.

[24] Ryan Nobles, CNN,“Marjorie Taylor Greene compares House mask mandates to the Holocaust”, posted May 22, 2021, accessed Sept. 1, 2021.

[25] “Anti-vaxxers and antisemites unite,” Chronicle & Transcript, July 22, 2021, 7A.

[26] Richard Cowan, Reuters,“U.S. congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene apologizes for comparing COVID-19 masks to Holocaust ,”

[27] Siobhan Hughes The Wall Street Journal, “Marjorie Taylor Greene, Other GOP Lawmakers Sue Pelosi Over Mask Penalties: The Georgia Congresswoman, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina were fined $500 for not wearing masks, ,posted and updated July 27, 2021, accessed August 31, 2021.

[31] Christopher Burns, WGME, channel 13,”QAnon conspiracy theorist who organized far-right Maine event dies of COVID-19 Bangor -,” Monday, August 30th 2021.

[32] Md Saiful Islam, et. al, “COVID-19 vaccine rumors and conspiracy theories: The need for cognitive inoculation against misinformation to improve vaccine adherence,” , posted May 12, 2021, accessed August 30, 2021.

[33] By David Robson, BBC, ‘”Why some people don’t want a Covid-19 Vaccine,” posted 22nd July 2021, accessed August 31, 2021. 


[34] Holly Yan, CNN Health,“Covid-19 vaccine myths: These reasons for not getting a shot don't hold up. In fact, they'll set the US back,” For other websites listing religious movements with hesitations see, Vincent Iannelli, MD, “Are There Religious Exemptions to Vaccines?” on verywell family, Updated on December 09, 2020, accessed Sept.16, 2021, and Vanderbilt Faculty Staff Health and Wellness,, just to name two of many sites.

[35]Christianity Today (CT), Rebecca Randall, “Not Worth a Shot: Why Some Christians Refuse Vaccinations on Moral Grounds,”, posted April 7, 2021, accessed August 22, 2021.

[38], posted December 28, 2020, updated March 2, 2021, August 18, 2021, accessed August 23, 2021.

[40] The origin of my last name, Spencer, was impossible for us to trace. My wife and I went to the city in Pennsylvania where my father’s father was reared, and found his name, but the lineage suddenly cut off. The city’s archival expert who was graciously helping us asked if I knew whether I had Native-American background. I said my father impressed on me that I had Leni Lenape heritage. The archivist told me he saw this all the time – lines simply stopped being recorded if First Nations people established or entered them since they were not included in the census records of the past.

[41] See Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, Henry Stuart Jones, Roderick McKenzie, et. al, A Greek English Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 816.

[42] See “Perfumes and Anointing Oils” (Grand Rapids, MI, 2005), 1746. Also see our Joy through the Night: Biblical Resources on Suffering (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1994), 123-24.