(Please read this first: A good friend expressed deep concern to me that this article seemed to mock people who refuse to take the vaccine. I have reread the article because I hate the idea that it came across this way. It’s already in the newspapers, so it is too late to add this note there, but I want to clarify here. Some of the things mentioned below – for example, evidence that the vaccine causes health risks, concerns over the lack of FDA approval, the unprecedented speed at which the vaccine was released for public use – seem to me to be perfectly legitimate concerns. When I weighed these legitimate concerns against the benefits of the vaccine, it seemed to me that the benefits outweighed the concerns. I realize that people I hold in high regard weigh it differently, and I do not intend to criticize them. I am only explaining my reasons for taking the vaccine.)
COVID-19 is currently surging through our county. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, new cases have jumped 81 percent over last week and the percentage of positive tests has doubled.
In the church I pastor, many people have decided not to take the vaccine. They have cited evidence that the vaccine causes health risks, expressed concerns over the lack of testing and of FDA approval, and protested that the vaccine is the latest example of government overreach. They have complained that other promising therapies have been unwisely ignored. They have also heard prophecies that declare the vaccine to be “the mark of the beast” mentioned in Revelation 13.
I understand and respect their choice. In the cascade of conflicting information, doubt is to be expected and certainty is unfeasible. When I first heard about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, I also had doubts. Less than seven months after President Trump announced Operation Warp Speed, the FDA had already granted Emergency Use Approval to the drugs. There is no precedent for the speed at which these drugs were developed, mass produced, and distributed. Nor, I think, for the amount of money that has changed hands in the process.
So I did some research. I read what I could find from respected scientists and from fellow Christians in the medical field. I learned that the science behind RNA vaccines like the Moderna and Pfizer drugs has been developing for the past 30 years, which explains the speed at which the COVID-19 vaccine was released.
I attended to the claims made by those who oppose the use of RNA vaccines. Some of these claims would make great story lines in a futuristic adventure movie. Indeed, some follow the plot line of “I Am Legend”: normal people are turned into something sub-human by the introduction of a vaccine into their system. I found the stories fascinating, even compelling. What I could not find was a shred of evidence to support such claims.
I dislike taking any medications. I nevertheless choose to do so in the case of the meds my cardiologist prescribed because it seems that the cost of not taking them is likely higher than the cost of taking them. After researching the RNA vaccines, I concluded the same to be true.
I also chose to take the vaccine because I refuse to be ruled by fear. When the COVID-19 virus first began to spread in the U.S., we heard daily reports of new infections and of increasing death tolls. The state shut down businesses, issued mask-orders, and social distancing guidelines.
Our church responded by taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus. After a brief shut-down, we restarted worship services with a reduced seating capacity. We recommended mask-wearing, began a mask-required service, and stopped serving coffee and snacks. We went online and streamed services for many members of our church family who chose not to attend in-person services. We phoned our entire church family to check on their health and to offer help in getting groceries or driving to doctors.
What we did not do was panic. We tried to be wise and loving, to provide our church family with opportunities to worship together while mitigating the risk involved in doing so. In retrospect, there were decisions made over the past year that I would now make differently. But they were not made from fear.
I’ve noticed that many people who fear the virus do not fear the vaccine and many who fear the vaccine do not fear the virus. I refuse to fear either. I wear a mask when necessary because our governing authorities have required it, because I want to protect others, and because doing so does not require me to disobey God. But I do not wear a mask because I fear contracting the virus.
Likewise, I took the vaccine because I want once again to visit the church family I love in their homes and in the care facilities where some of them reside, and because taking it did not require me to disobey God. But I did not take it because of fear. I refuse to allow fear to govern my choices.
(First published by Gannett)