After almost a year of socio-political disruption caused by the SARS-CoV-2 RNA virus, some vaccines have received emergency approval for use in the vulnerable and general population. Some countries have received and have begun to vaccinate their people, while others are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the vaccines. Christians and Christian faith communities are facing a new dilemma. Should they and the families receive the COVID-19 vaccination? This is not about being anti-vax or a vaccine resister. This is about making a choice.
First, helping and protecting the sick, the poor, and the vulnerable has always been part of the Christian mandate. In the past few months, most Christians have been part of the public health program acting to contain the spread of infection and treating the infected by participating in lockdowns, hand washing, social distancing, and wearing face masks. These measures in some countries have managed to control the spread of the infection and prevent healthcare facilities from being overwhelmed. It bought time for healthcare measures to be put in place. Though not all Christians agree to these measures, by and large, most are involved and some have sacrificed their lives. Christians count among the numerous deaths of healthcare workers. Pre-COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination is one of the most effective forms of public health measures and has achieved a drastic lowering of childhood death rate in the last few decades. Smallpox has been eradicated and polio almost. The COVID-19 vaccine should be perceived as something helpful in public health measures in protecting the vulnerable and the community.
Second, the rapid development of the vaccine is a testimony to international scientific collaboration and funding. There are four categories of COVID-19 vaccines:
- Vaccine virus (inactivated virus)
- Protein-based virus (viral particles)
- Viral vector vaccines (non-replicating viral vector)
- Nucleic Acid Vaccine (RNA vaccine)
The first three vaccine types are not unknown and are the reasons for the successful vaccination program in primary healthcare. What most Christians and others are concerned about is the RNA vaccine.
The RNA vaccine is produced by totally new technology. One of the concerns is about the short time in development. Research on vaccines for SARS, H1N1 Influenza, and Ebola has been quite advanced for many years. The search for the RNA vaccine did not start from scratch. The scientists just used the SARS-CoV-2 virus with existing technology to produce the vaccine. So, counting existing templates, the development of the vaccine is a few years, not a few months.
The RNA from the RNA vaccine acts outside the nucleus to produce proteins for the body to react and develop immunity against. The RNA does not enter the nucleus and interact with the DNA or cause mutations.
The safety and efficacy of the RNA vaccine is yet to be fully established. In the phase 3 trials involving a large number of people, so far it has been shown to be safe and has remarkable efficacy (more than 95%). These trials are less than three months old so data on long term immunity, prevention of spread in the community, and long-term safety is not yet available. Lacking any measures to adequately protect the vulnerable such as those above 60 years old and the frontliners, the RNA vaccine seems to be an acceptable risk.
Third, the distribution cold chain of the RNA vaccine is a major concern. The Pfizer/BioNTech RNA vaccine needs to be stored at -70° C. There are few places on this planet with facilities to store at this temperature. Dry ice does not work. Any temperature above -70°C even for a short time will inactivate RNA rendering the vaccine useless. Unless there are in place the facilities to maintain the cold chain from the manufacturing plants to the distant rural clinics, there are concerns about using this vaccine. Giving people an inactivated vaccine will create a false sense of security and may do more harm than good.
Fourth, there should be equitable distribution of the vaccine. In the past, high- and middle-income countries tend to get the vaccine first before the lower-income countries. COVAX is a consortium of middle- and lower-income countries formed to ensure fair distribution of vaccines. Its effectiveness remains to be seen as we see already see the rollout of RNA vaccines in the high-income countries but not the low-income ones.
Finally, there are some who teach that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is receiving the Mark of the Beast. There are numerous ways these teachers arrive at this conclusion, least of these is that CORONA is 666, and Bill Gates of Melinda and Gates Foundation has incorporated microchips in the RNA vaccine. In the Book of Revelation in the Bible, the Mark of the Lamb (Revelation 7:3) preceded the Mark of the Beast. In context, receiving the Mark of the Beast is a conscious choice to turn away from God. It is inconceivable anyone would associate the COVID-19 vaccine with the Mark of the Beast.
Christians are to act well, protect the weak and vulnerable, help the poor, and love their neighbours. The COVID-19 vaccine seems to be a light in a dark COVID year. Christians have one more measure for healthcare and that is prayer. Christians should not neglect the most powerful of these resources. While praying for the vulnerable and concerns about the vaccine, Christians should also consider whether they will choose to be vaccinated and if so, with which vaccine. Furthermore, churches should be considering getting vaccines for the poor and vulnerable in their communities if their government is not providing the vaccine for free.
Dr Alex Tang is a Paediatrician and Practical Theologian from Johor Bahru Malaysia. This article is reproduced with permission from his website.