In recent months I have received e-mails and Facebook comments from various sources suggesting that Christians should not receive the Covid-19 Vaccine. I have also had concerned individuals contacting me to ask my thoughts on the topic.
I chose not to jump to any conclusions but to consider each of the reasons before giving a response and making my own decision as to whether to accept the offer. What follows is a summary of my thoughts on some of the reservations people have expressed.
We have all heard various forms of this argument in the media or from well-meaning friends. The suggestion is that Covid-19 does not exist and world-wide governments are involved in a conspiracy to control people's lives.
At the very beginning of the outbreak someone said to me that the restrictions took away our liberties. I agreed, they did restrict our liberties, but why? As a serviceman I had several tours of the Falkland Islands. While I was there, many areas had not yet been cleared of mines - we were not allowed to cross these fields. Some of the areas were beautiful and would have made wonderful walks, but our liberty to cross was restricted by law. It was not to deny us something good, but to protect us from something bad. I saw the Covid-19 restrictions in a similar way; they restricted us, but it was to protect us from something bad.
I also thought to myself, if this is a conspiracy, who is gaining? Covid measures have so far cost the government £250bn. The government is not gaining anything by asking us to stay at home - they would much rather we were working, earning and spending.
As well as being a Pastor, I also work part-time for a private ambulance company. In recent months we have worked with NHS hospitals including transporting Covid-19 patients. I have seen the reality of life in hospitals. To suggest this is not real is a huge insult to the staff who are stretched beyond measure (in some cases stretched beyond breaking point) by the effects of this virus. No-one working in hospitals thinks the restrictions have been too severe; most would have preferred more stringent measures brought in more quickly.
I also have colleagues who have been working on front-line ambulances throughout the Covid Pandemic. I cannot repeat some of the absolute horror stories they have relayed to me about their experiences of transporting Covid patients. However, I can tell you that they have witnessed young, fit, healthy people dying in particularly horrible ways as they attempted to move them into an ambulance. These are hardened professionals with many years front-line experience who have been shocked and deeply moved by what they've seen in the last year. Trust me; this virus is real!
The argument that the vaccine can alter your DNA has been presented by many anti-vaccination groups while concerns over it containing modified animal DNA has been raised by some concerned Christians.
Getting to the bottom of what is in the vaccines has not been easy due to a certain degree of corporate secrecy and my lack of detailed medical knowledge (some very technical language is used that I did not always understand). However, after some research I think I have a broad idea of what it is in the vaccines: what follows is my layman's understanding written for people of a similar ilk.
From what I can gather, the Phizer and Moderna vaccines both use "Modified RNA" (mRNA) technique, similar to that commonly used in the annual flu jabs. This takes a virus, removes the harmful inner portion, leaving the outer "spike" of the virus. The human body's immune response recognises the spike protein and attacks it. Importantly, our immune system has a memory (praise God for His intelligent design) and will then attack that same outer portion of the virus if we later contract the full virus through natural means.
These vaccines also contain "activating agents" to make the mRNA virus active in the body, thus accelerating our immune response. I have looked at the make-up of the rest of the injected liquid and it appears to be a harmless saline solution.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is made using a different method. It contains a very weak variant of the virus to promote the immune response - more on that later in the article.
Importantly, neither technique changes or interferes with our DNA in any way. Both trigger our immune response system to recognise the virus in future (just as having an illness like mumps or chicken-pox does); this requires no alteration of our DNA. Nor do the vaccines contain modified animal DNA. They contain forms of the virus - either a form that has the inner portion removed or a very weak version - but no other animal material.
3. Vaccines are made from aborted babies
The claim that some vaccines come from aborted babies is a slight exaggeration, but comes from a very valid concern.
Some vaccines use "human cell lines" as the tissue in which to cultivate the active ingredients. In some cases, these human cell lines are clones of cells that were taken from two babies aborted in the 1960s and 1970s. Such procedures are used in some MMR, Chicken-Pox and Shingles vaccines. See Vaccine ingredients for more information.
Neither the Phizer nor Bio-NTech vaccines used this in their research, but there is evidence that the Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine did use Human Cell Lines in the production!
"We should not do evil that good may come." (Pastor John Piper)
It has been pointed out that these human cell lines are clones of clones of clones and a long way removed from the original cells. It is also clear that absolutely no material from the cells is contained within the vaccine. Even Catholic Bishops (known for strongly opposing abortion) issued a statement supporting use of the Oxford vaccine. Even so, this may present a serious question mark for Christians about accepting the Oxford vaccine.
It seems to me that there are two ways the concerned Christian might respond:
If we accept the second argument, we can take the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine with a clear conscience. But if we believe the first second statement is true, we should refuse this version (and any other similarly-developed vaccines) regardless of the potential cost. It is not an easy decision and should be made prayerfully. But once made, we should go forward with a clear conscience that we have sought God's will and acted in accordance with His leading.
4. The Vaccine is the "Mark of the Beast"
"He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no-one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666." (Revelation, Chapter 13, Verses 16 to 18)Some of the videos and social media posts about the vaccine have suggested that the Covid Vaccine is the "Number of the Beast" of Revelation 13. Ideas that some governments may deny people the right to work or visit shops without the vaccine play into the belief that this could be the mark placed on all who follow the beast instead of God.
However, those marked with the number (whatever it may be) will be people who have not made the positive choice to turn to Jesus for the forgiveness and salvation that we all need. Those who have turned to Jesus in repentance and faith will not have the mark regardless of any decision they may have made about a vaccine. Indeed, children and infants will eventually be given the vaccine, they will not have had any choice in the matter and may become believers later in life. Do we really imagine that God would destroy them because their parents gave them a vaccine?
I do not believe for one moment that the vaccine is the mark of the beast!
All of the available Covid vaccines have been created in a remarkable short period of time. Before being approved for use in the wider population, vaccines usually have years of trials and research would be made open for peer review; this has not been the case for Covid vaccines. In particular, we cannot know the long-term effects of a vaccine that has only been developed in the last year.
At this point we have to weigh up potential benefits with potential risk - something we are particularly bad at doing otherwise none of us would do the lottery!
In this country, we are being asked to trust the NHS advice on this. As a Pastor friend of mine commented to me recently, "do I trust the NHS? Well, they've been extremely good to me so far in life!" He also noted some of the potential benefits: a return to congregational worship; a return to pastoral visits; a return to normal family life.
The benefits to ourselves and others would appear to outweigh the risks of a vaccine that (although not tested as rigorously as we would like) has been approved by the independent agencies we trust to make the right decisions about our health; agencies who are far better equipped to make those assessments than we are. The NHS has never tricked me into anything yet, why do we think they would do so now?
This is a really interesting dilemma for the Christian. It is absolutely right that we should trust God but also right that we exercise personal responsibility for our own and other people's well-being.
I personally trust God to keep me safe while driving (some who have seen me driving also pray for God's protection!), and yet, like everyone else, I wear a seat-belt. The Bible contains instructions for us to take practical steps to protect ourselves and others, including the first known example of Health and Safety legislation.
We look before crossing the road, we have our children immunised and wear the correct protective clothing in hazardous environments. It seems that taking the protective measure to protect ourselves and others from Covid-19 is a Biblically responsible thing to do.
It is clear that the decision on whether to have this vaccine is neither easy nor straightforward; there are a number of serious ethical and spiritual questions to look at. However we can, and should, avoid some of the more extreme scaremongering stories that have been put forward and say clearly:
However, other ethical and spiritual questions need to be answered by each individual:
Personally, I am glad that I have done some research (I would love to have gone deeper, but my lack of knowledge limited the extent I could understand). It has made me realise that we need to think seriously about what we put into our bodies and to ask questions about what they contain and how they are made. We must not do something just because everyone says we should - we look to God, not humanity, for ethical answers.
Discovering that the Oxford research benefitted from aborted babies leaves me deeply uneasy - as has discovering that several other well-used vaccines were similarly developed.
My desire is that we as a Church should be able to meet again; this will happen all the sooner if we are vaccinated against this very real virus. I accept that there may be long-term risks, but I trust those who have made the decisions and believe the benefits outweigh potential problems.
What will I do now?
I trust God to move me forward on the list if He wants me to have the vaccine early (as a member of an ambulance company this could happen). Therefore I will not make any attempt to move myself forward but will wait for the call either through my GP or through the company.
If I am offered the Vaccine, and can be sure it is not the Oxford variant, I will have no hesitation in accepting. As I wait, it will give me time to pray about my response to having the Oxford jab. If that is the only one available when it is offered, I may decline depending on how God guides me in the intervening weeks.
I pray that you may know God's peace as you seek His guidance on the right action to take.
Stuart Bailey (Pastor, The Open Door Christian Fellowship)