“Hesitancy” is a broad term, and there’s plenty of room for rational and well informed people to “hesitate.” We know the vaccines were developed much faster than usual. We know that the RNA based vaccines use a partially new approach.
But many Christians aren’t just hesitating. They’re firmly rejecting. And it certainly appears that many are hesitating or rejecting for poor reasons. We owe it to ourselves, our fellow citizens, our fellow believers, and our Lord to be well-informed and well-reasoned on this.
I’m no expert in immunology, or bioethics, but what follows draws from people who are. To the critically minded—good for you! I’m all for asking good questions and holding answers up to strong standards. That said, this is an inductive case and doesn’t rise or fall on any one point, or even several.
Eight reasons Christians should be pro-vaccine
1. It’s not the mark of the Beast.
We don’t know exactly what the mark of the beast described in Revelation 13:16-17 is. Revelation says the mark is an expression of “the name of the beast,” and describes it as a requirement for engaging in commerce. We also read that the mark is an expression of worship (Rev 14:9-11, 16:2).
Whatever else we might say about the mark, those who receive it have a clear motivation. They know what they’re doing and aren’t tricked into it, thinking they’re fighting the spread of a disease. If they’re deceived, it’s into believing they should reject Christ (2 Thess 2:8-12).
As for the story that Bill Gates and others have put computer chips in the vaccine, the probability of this is not meaningfully greater than zero. Human microchipping has already been a thing for a while, and we don’t yet have the ability to make them small enough to sneak into vaccines. They’re also not cheap or easy to make. If the total cost of making one of these chips was $1, that would add a million bucks to every million vaccines. But the cost is far higher, and you’d need a bunch of them in every shot because these would have to be so small they’d need to reassemble themselves into a near field radio transmitter.
No, if you’re a secret cadre of billionaires and want to chip everybody, the way to do it is to openly sell it as cool new tech that unlocks entertainment and other convenient services.
2. It’s the shortest path to the end of lockdowns, limited gatherings, and mask requirements.
It doesn’t make sense to be against lockdowns and masks for social/political reasons and also oppose vaccination. How else are we going to put all these COVID disruptions behind us?
For those who see the COVID rules as liberal policy, it’s probably worth noting that the big two vaccines developed in the U.S. (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) were Trump projects. Operation Warp Speed was an accomplishment of his administration. Though government funded and partially government regulated (these companies have lots of regulation of their own), these vaccines were developed by businesses in the private sector.
Trump has recently spoken out himself (again) in support of the vaccines.
3. The new vaccines are less spooky than they may sound.
It’s easy to find claims in social media that the big two vaccines alter human DNA or involve risky “messing around with RNA.” But a bit of searching shows how these vaccines were made, what they do with RNA and DNA, and how they resemble and differ from the traditional vaccines we’re all used to.
How vaccines work
Vaccines have long worked on the same basic principle: tricking the body into producing antibodies for a pathogen that isn’t really there. When the pathogen eventually arrives, there’s already a cellular army with specialized weapons ready to defeat it.
My understanding as a layman is that vaccines have mostly managed this trick in three ways:
- Introducing something into the body that resembles the pathogen or is a damaged version of it that can’t reproduce well, if at all.
- Introducing lab-created proteins into the body. The proteins resemble those on the pathogen.
- Introducing genetic material so the body makes the proteins that resemble the pathogen. The big two use messenger RNA (mRNA) to do this. The Johnson & Johnson does this a different way (more on that below).
In all three cases, the molecules (proteins) that can trigger an immune system response are called antigens. The mRNA method is just a faster way to make the immune-system-triggering proteins, rather than creating the proteins in labs.
For those who aren’t comfortable with the mRNA method, there’s a non-mRNA vaccine rolling out in the U.S. now: Johnson & Johnson’s single-injection wonder. The J&J vaccine is often referred to as an “adenovirus vaccine,” but it’s more accurate to call it a viral vector vaccine (that is adenovirus-based).
How it works: As with all vaccines, you need a protein in your blood that mimics the pathogen. Viral vector vaccines use a stripped down natural virus (like the common cold) to carry the DNA coding for the protein to cells. The cells pick it up and make the proteins (antigens) that get the immune system to build its army.
Why our DNA is safe
Whether the genetic material is mRNA (the big two) or DNA (J&J), it’s not incorporated into the DNA in our cells. This is because the vaccine doesn’t include anything with the capability of reproducing itself or breaking down existing DNA. So, for a while, there’s a tiny bit of mRNA or DNA for making a specific protein, but these bits of mRNA and DNA have no way to reproduce, and soon break down. A good read on that: Here’s Why Viral Vector Vaccines Don’t Alter DNA. See also: The Infectious Disease Society’s Vaccine FAQ, the “Molecular Features of mRNA Vaccines” section.
Some other links you may find helpful:
- A simple look at how mRNA vaccines are made, with some good links to more primary sources if you want to dig further: COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time – but are these game-changers safe?
- One of the deeper looks at the similarities and differences among the major vaccines developed in the U.S. The Differences Between the Vaccines Matter
- Why it takes 2 shots to make mRNA vaccines do their antibody-creating best
- What Are Adenovirus-Based Vaccines?
4. Trusting God is not the opposite of trusting the means He provides.
What’s the Christian way to respond to risk or need? Do we act in ways that seem wise in order to obtain what’s needed, or do we choose passivity and “trust God” with the outcome?
There’s a false choice in that question. In reality, we’re always dependent on God (Acts 17:28, Col 1:17), so “trusting God,” is more about how we think about our actions than it is about our actions. The God who rebuked Judah for looking to Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-2) commanded Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt (Matt 2:13). You can “turn to Egypt” in a way that trusts God or in a way that doesn’t.
We don’t have to choose between trusting God or taking wise action. We’re supposed to trust God and take wise action. (I wrote about this previously using Nehemiah as an example.)
5. Serious side effects have been few.
News of COVID vaccine experiences have followed a pattern well known in the news business: “If it bleeds, it leads.” There isn’t much drama in saying “most people who get the vaccine feel the expected mild side effects.” So, the alarming exceptions get all the attention, stick best in memory, and get passed around social media most.
This tends to result in frequency illusion (see Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon), where what’s pretty rare is perceived as happening like crazy.
A few relevant points on this:
- In the U.S., vaccine reactions are tracked closely through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a national vaccine safety surveillance program run by CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. In addition, CDC is tracking reactions through V-safe.
- As of mid-March, more than 109 million vaccine doses have been received.
- Serious side effects like anaphylaxis are fewer than half a dozen per million. (So far, J&J seems a bit better on allergic reactions.)
- A common logical error: “x% of people died after vaccination, so the vaccine is killing people.” It’s important to think that through. For example, 100% of deceased adults died after eating a meal. Maybe it was a long time after, and maybe lots of other things happened also, but that’s the point: sequence does not equal cause. How many of those who died after vaccination would have died regardless?
- Helpful: Med Shadow’s COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effect Tracker
- Also helpful, from Jim Geraghty at National Review: COVID-Vaccine Health Risks: What You Should Know
6. The abortion connection is distant.
In reference to the big two, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Counsel wrote last December to clarify the role of abortion in the development of these vaccines. Three points stand out:
- The cells used for this research are “immortalized” cell lines: cells cloned from other cells many times, that came from a human fetus decades ago.
- Some of the original cells were obtain in unethical ways (i.e., abortion); others were not (e.g., miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy).
- The use of long-immortalized cell lines doesn’t create or contribute to a market for tissue from aborted infants.
Russel Moore made similar observations in reference to the J&J vaccine earlier this month.
7. God created an orderly world.
Many oppose these vaccines, and research-based medicine in general, out of a deep skepticism toward science. There are plenty of reasons to doubt claims made under the banner of “science.” And who hasn’t been disappointed with a doctor or a treatment result?
But Christians should feel a strong pull in the opposite direction, creating a healthy intellectual tension. Systematic, observation-based science was pretty much invented by Christians, driven by the belief that the world God created (a) was meant to be studied, (b) can teach us about the mind of the One who made it, and (c) is only predictable and orderly at all because He made it that way.
If I toss a stone into a pond, I’m confident it will sink. That may not seem like a theological insight, but it really is, if we look at it right. The stone sank when I was a kid. It sank last week. It’ll sink tomorrow. This predictability owes to the fact that God filled the world with patterns of observable cause and effect. The study of those patterns is objectively glorifying to Him—even when those who do it are, subjectively, thinking in godless ways.
Christians should love science. More on that:
8. Compassion is a Christian priority.
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with our all (Mark 12:30). Another commandment is apparently a close second (Mark 12:31): to love those around us as we do ourselves.
Even if I’ve already had COVID, getting the vaccine could potentially do several things:
- Encourage others who haven’t had the illness to get vaccinated
- Reduce my ability to asymptomatically spread the virus to others (Those with antibodies are unlikely to get sick, but viruses can probably still reproduce in them to some extent.)
- Ease the minds of people I work with who are especially fearful, or especially at risk
- Decrease my chances of getting it again and becoming a burden for caretakers—or dying (negatively impacting my family and colleagues)
As the old John Donne quote says, no man is an island. We all need people and people need us, and nothing we do is completely free of impact on those around us.
Aaron Blumer is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in small-town western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. In his full time job, he is content manager for a law-enforcement digital library service.