In September 2020 it was estimated that researchers were testing 40 different coronavirus vaccines in clinical trials on humans, and at least 92 preclinical vaccines were under active investigation in laboratory experiments. In December 2020, the UK and USA regulatory authorities approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and mass immunization campaigns commenced. Since then, several vaccines have been officially approved and hundreds of millions of people have received a coronavirus vaccine.
From a Christian perspective, perhaps we should first pause here and give thanks that God has given us, here and now in the 21st century, the scientific knowledge, the human expertise and motivation and the financial resources to undertake this massive scientific enterprise for the good of humankind. There’s little doubt that the entire field of vaccine development has been transformed for good because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Should you get the COVID vaccine? Many Christians are saying “no” or “not yet.” Here are several reasons to say “yes” when you are eligible
First, COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Misinformation and conspiracy theories fill social media, making people cautious. Yet all vaccines in the U.S. are required to go through a rigorous testing and approval process. The process was accelerated for COVID-19, but not by shortcutting the research. Rather, companies were paid to produce millions of doses early, in hopes their vaccine would work.
Second, It will give protection to others as well as yourself. Some people will not be able to take the vaccine at all due to other serious health conditions. When you get the vaccine, you help build up the “community immunity” that protects others. If large numbers of people are vaccinated, COVID will not be able to spread to the most vulnerable among us.
Vaccinations not only protect you, but also protect other vulnerable members of society. When most people in a community are vaccinated, people with compromised immunity who cannot be vaccinated are also protected. The healthy among us can help those who are more vulnerable by getting ourselves vaccinated.
Third, COVID-19 vaccines are ethical. At present, many Christians are concerned about the possible use of fetal cells in vaccines. The good news is that no vaccines contain human cells! Moreover, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not use human cells even in the production process. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does use a human cell line in production; this is an immortal cell line that came from a fetus aborted in 1985 (the abortion was not performed for this purpose).
Yet even here, the cells used today are descended many generations from the original fetus and were never part of an actual human body. While the association with abortion gives many Christians pause, there is substantial agreement among Christian theologians and ethicists that the connection to fetal cell lines should not make these vaccines off-limits for Christians.
Lastly, the disease is dangerous and serious than the vaccine. No vaccine is 100% risk-free, just as no medical procedure is risk free. Christians need to weigh the risks on both sides. COVID-19 is a serious disease, much worse than the flu. By now we have all known people who have had it. Some people have mild cases, but others have serious symptoms, hospitalization, and long-term complications. The risks of the vaccine are less than the risks of the disease.
In Philippians 2:5-7, God commands us to, “In your relationships with another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” by “taking the very nature of a servant” and “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” We, of course, need to make wise decisions for ourselves, recognizing that our “bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). But we also need to recognize that we were created to be in community with others, loving and serving them as Christ would.
Our faith and obedience to Jesus in discipleship involves dying to ourselves and taking up the cross to follow him. We are commanded to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving other people can involve many things, but at minimum it involves seeking their good. The general principle of the common good comes down to benevolence, love, care for others, and laying down personal priorities for the service of others.
As followers of Jesus, we have committed ourselves to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, therefore the issue of immunization is not a matter to be taken lightly. We must think biblically about this vital issue.
Let us keep praying for those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Let us keep caring for our neighbors through this crisis. May 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 in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Vaccination is a concrete way you can care for your family, your church, and your community.
Where can I get more information? Here is a list of helpful websites for those interested in digging deeper into these questions.
- BioLogos is an organization that invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith.
- A Christian Response to Coronavirus is an insightful podcast recording with NT Wright, a leading Biblical scholar, and Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a national public health institute.
- Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, wrote a helpful blog post about how public health policies have prevented hundreds of millions of coronavirus infections.