I’m a Christian. Why should I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

I’m a Christian. Why should I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

by David K. Vallance, M.D. (Ann Arbor, MI, USA)

I have written this paper to address questions many believers have asked me about the new COVID-19 vaccines.  I recommend getting a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can (unless you have had a serious allergic reaction to a similar injection in the past).  Vaccination is not only proper stewardship of your body, but also vital support for a world in pandemic crisis.  Society needs help desperately, and Christians should lead the way.  It might mean a sore arm for a day, but receiving the vaccine will benefit you, protect others, and shorten the pandemic.  And embracing this therapy is also the surest path back to full enjoyment of congregational worship and service; apart from vaccination, the virus will continue to sideline normal assembly activity for years.

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19, the pandemic infection that has vexed the world for the past year.  Most people who contract COVID-19 recover.  Many have only mild symptoms; some have no symptoms.  Although many do die, the COVID-19 death rate is considerably lower than for other epidemic diseases like Ebola hemorrhagic fever or pneumonic plague.  For these reasons, many people believe that COVID-19 has been blown out of proportion.  “It’s no worse than the flu,” they say, and question the need to get vaccinated.

This perspective is distorted.  What the virus lacks in lethality compared to other infections it makes up in transmissibility.  As of this writing, people worldwide are dying from COVID-19 at a rate of about one a minute, and the global death toll exceeds 1.7 million.  This is only the start, however, because over ninety percent of the world’s people—completely defenseless—are still waiting their turn to meet this virus.  So apart from vaccination, COVID-19 will continue to spread for months and years to come, directly sickening and killing people and indirectly causing further economic devastation, third-world starvation, social separation, and suicide.  Because COVID-19 is so serious, accepting a vaccine is your moral duty (unless you have a medical contraindication).  If we compare the risk of adverse effects with the urgently needed benefit, the choice is clearly in favor of that benefit.

What I have written is controversial—I know.  In this paper, I will further discuss COVID-19 facts and defend vaccination from science and Scripture.  However, my burden is bigger than COVID-19 alone, because this pandemic has also spotlighted other pervasive problems in modern life that should bother followers of Christ—who is the Truth.  I want to critique uncritical acceptance of (mis)information, excessive distrust of institutions, unscriptural resistance to government, and insular disregard of social responsibility.  Serious problems like these require a serious, thorough paper.  But I want to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), arguing kindly and empathetically.  If you detect any harsh note or condescending tone, I ask your forgiveness.

Finding the truth has never been easy, and living in a postmodern, post-truth age makes that quest all the harder.  Detecting the secular slant and leftist activism in most mainstream media, many people—believers especially—have rejected these traditional sources of information altogether.  And instead of more wisely turning to books, a growing number have migrated to social media for the answers they seek.  Broadly, however, the information they uncover there turns out to be even more biased and suspect—especially in the domain of science.  Social media have created an egocentric space where anyone can be an expert and everyone’s opinion counts.  By being “liked” and forwarded, misinformation goes viral, spreading at a speed and on a scale unknown in history.  Too often, conspiracy theories run unchecked while the legitimate work of medical scientists and civil servants is smothered.

Bombarded by conflicting voices, many level-headed people are unsure what to believe about this pandemic and the vaccines.  I will argue that we have solid information about the effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccines and that current facts obligate us to choose vaccination.  Because I write to generations whose collective memory of devastating plagues has passed, I begin by emphasizing the curse of infectious diseases through history.  I turn to the stunning success and surprising safety of vaccination—undoubtedly the single greatest contribution of science to the well-being of the world.  Reminded that “no man lives to himself” (Rom. 14:7)—that we have obligations to the Lord and to others—I contend that receiving the vaccine serves other and submits to divine authority.  Next, I cover common objections to vaccination, some amounting to conspiracy theories.  I conclude with an essay on how the Christian worldview gave rise to scientific medicine.

1. Because the toll of infectious disease is staggering.

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:21-22).  “Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf” (Luke 4:38).  “It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery.  And Paul visited him and prayed and putting his hands on him healed him” (Acts 28:8). 

During the four years of the American Civil War, two percent of the U.S. population died—620,000 men.  But most died of infection, not combat:  for every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of diseases like dysentery, typhoid, and measles.  During the first half of the twentieth century, variola (smallpox) killed 300–500 million people worldwide.  A major cholera outbreak that arose in India in 1899 left 800,000 victims in its wake.  The 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic killed as many as 100 million—about five percent of the world’s population.  And the poliomyelitis “roulette” spun year after year:  Although the majority of young children recovered, the disease killed ten percent of the people it paralyzed and left the rest crippled.

Today, however, all these infections—along with diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae B, measles, mumps, rubella, typhoid fever, yellow fever, rotavirus, hepatitis B, and others—can be prevented or controlled by vaccination.  In fact, the variola vaccine eradicated wildtype smallpox from the planet, and vaccines have eliminated two of the three strains of poliovirus.  Only clean water has saved more lives than vaccination.

Regrettably, vaccination is a victim of its own success.  Back in 1955 the fear of death and disability from “infantile paralysis” was so great that when the U.S. government rolled out the Salk polio vaccine, people held balloons and rode in parades and waited in long lines to get their shot (or by 1960, their sugar cube).  Vaccination called for celebration!  Years have rolled by, and modern people are different.  So the 2020 COVID-19 vaccines are enjoying no such fanfare.  Privileged first-world people have never stood in a polio ward filled with iron lungs, hearing the rhythmic swishing of their bellows, and seeing the fear in the eyes of the human heads jutting from these metal cocoons.  They have never walked a diphtheria graveyard or witnessed the roaring flames of a funeral pyre fueled by cholera corpses.  Well-insulated from the dread and devastation of unstoppable plagues, suspicious of pharmaceutical companies, cynical of government, and skeptical of science, many western people want to sit this one out.

2. Because letting nature take its course will cost millions of lives.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9).

As noted, the current global COVID-19 death toll exceeds 1.7 million, people are dying at a rate of about one a minute, and over ninety percent of the world’s population is still susceptible to this infection.  If we propose just waiting for the disease to spread around the globe until “herd immunity” finally arrives, then we will be waiting many months—some models predict years—before we can safely unmask and hug and sing again.  And when that time finally comes, many of us will no longer be around to do these things.

Further, if SARS-CoV-2 behaves like similar viruses, it will keep bouncing back.  The waning of natural immunity in previously infected people and the arrival of newborns will constantly erode the population’s protection.  Without vaccination, the only recourse for disease survivors who lose their immunity will be to get reinfected—and possibly die the second time around.  Although now a globe-covering pandemic, COVID-19 is expected to become endemic—always lurking in the population, frequently recurring in regional epidemics, and ultimately leaving millions more dead or disabled.  With COVID-19 vaccines, however, we can radically shorten the natural history of this pandemic and prevent such future breakouts.  As shown repeatedly in the past, vaccination is a sure way to “do good” and “save life” (Luke 6:9).

3. Because the vaccination was not rushed and is safe in its context.

“Use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim. 5:23).  “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty” (Prov. 21:5).

About one in five patients presenting with an aortic arch dissection (a tear in the big vessel conveying blood from the heart) will be dead within ten days of surgical repair.  People readily agree to this high-risk operation, however, because doing nothing means certain death.  In this situation, the decision not to operate carries the greater risk.

Although most medical decisions involve less drama, they still require us to weigh benefit against risk.  The hoped-for benefit lies only with accepting treatment; in our analysis, we do not expect to prevent, improve, or cure anything by doing nothing.  Risk, on the other hand, cuts two ways:  We must consider both the danger of receiving the treatment and the danger of rejecting it and decide which is greater.

Accepting a vaccine involves a small risk of an adverse effect—possibly a sore arm or a day of feeling off.  Very rarely, a more serious allergic reaction occurs.  To demand absolute safety—total harmlessness—before accepting a medical intervention amounts to therapeutic nihilism.  No vaccine or drug or procedure is “safe” in that absolute, unreasonable sense; no therapy could be given for anything.  To call something “safe” requires context:  a treatment is pronounced “safe” in the setting of its use.  The greater the danger of untreated disease, the greater the treatment can justifiably deviate from absolute safety.  In the setting of a raging global pandemic, we truly can declare the current vaccines safe.  Qualified medical authorities worldwide unhesitatingly affirm that the major benefit of vaccination to self and society far outweighs the minor risk of adverse effects, and that the risk of refusing vaccination is much greater.

What are the risks of refusal?  First, your personal danger of disability or death from COVID-19—contracting the real disease is far more perilous than even the most exaggerated hazards pinned to the vaccine.  Further, as a potential reservoir for SARS-CoV-2 you will continue to endanger others and undermine progress toward community immunity.  You will remain a vector capable of spreading the virus to others—your family, assembly, workplace, and community.  Based on its infectiousness, biostatisticians estimate that at least 75 percent of us need to become and remain immune to COVID-19 before we can contain viral spread without masking and distancing and move toward ending the pandemic.  Unvaccinated people thwart that critical team effort.

Since vaccines are given mostly to healthy people, regulators set the safety bar exceptionally high.  Any risk must be extremely low.  Based on the RNA design and preliminary animal data, scientists expected the risk of the current COVID-19 vaccines to be vanishingly small, and over 60,000 volunteers fulfilled this expectation in safety trials conducted in 2020.  In the Pfizer-BioNTech trials, the vaccine caused only rare and minor effects:  fatigue in 3.8 percent and headache in 2.0 percent.  Injection-site pain, muscle aching, chills, and all other complaints occurred in less than two percent—no different from their rate of occurrence in the control group that received placebo saltwater injections.  And none of those who experienced initial symptoms had lingering effects.

Immunization works when people—the majority—feel no adverse effects following their injection.  Since vaccines are designed to provoke an immune response, however, an aroused immune system may generate some symptoms—reassuring evidence that the vaccine has worked.  Skeptics latch onto reports of more serious adverse events that occurred in less than one percent of study participants, but these turn out to be medical events that routinely happen in the general population at similar frequency—events that occurred at statistically equal rates in the volunteers who received placebo injections.  Remember:  correlation does not mean causation.  In the vast majority of reported serious adverse events, analysts could establish no plausible causal relationship to the vaccine.

Vaccines normally take a few years to develop, so when the COVID-19 vaccines arrived in just a few months, people assumed that corners were cut and the whole thing was rushed.  Under normal circumstances, vaccine manufacturers go through a long serial process:  design, phase-1 safety testing, phase-2 efficacy testing, phase-3 volunteer testing, licensing, marketing, and then production.  But COVID-19 vaccine developers, aided and underwritten by government programs like Operation Warp Speed in the U.S., compressed the whole process like a pirate’s spyglass:  they were freed from red tape, eliminated dead time, and ran safety trials, efficacy trials, and productions lines concurrently.  Preset safety standards, as rigorous as for any previous vaccine, were not cut.

Although not detected in over 60,000 people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines prior to launch, rare and late-breaking adverse effect from vaccination could still occur.  Any new therapy may cause health problems that only time can reveal.  After decades of observation, for example, the seasonal flu vaccine has been plausibly linked to a one-in-a-million chance of contracting Guillain-Barre syndrome.  However, the risk of incurring this serious nerve disorder from influenza A infection itself is at least a thousand times higher than from the vaccine.  It take millions of people and many years to detect vanishingly rare problems.  But that only underscores the general safety of vaccines.  Driving to the grocery store is more dangerous.

4. Because the vaccines are highly effective.

Not only have the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines met rigorous safety standards, but they are also about 95 percent effective in suppressing the disease.  Scientists were hoping for a vaccine with at least 50 percent efficacy—enough to confer the kind of partial “functional” immunity we see with the 20-60 percent effectiveness of annual flu shots.  Mass vaccination doesn’t stop the flu, but it does reduce the disease burden by slowing transmission and making symptoms milder and recovery faster.  Over time, a COVID-19 vaccine with a similar modest effect would still spare hundreds of thousands from chronic health problems and death.  However, a vaccine with only 50 percent efficacy wouldn’t hit the coveted “herd immunity” threshold even if everyone took it.  The striking 95 percent efficacy of the new COVID-19 vaccines exceeded expectations.  If every eligible person would accept it, a vaccine of this potency would make disease control virtually certain and disease eradication truly possible.

Some have scoffed that a disease that was initially killing only three percent of those infected—and now only about one percent, thanks to improved treatment—is not worth worrying about.  (Those who have lost a loved one to COVID-19, however, will not be consoled by this statistic.)  A little math will show that this view is misguided.  In the U.S., about 34,000 lost their lives to influenza during the 2018-2019 flu season, and some 36,000 people died from traffic accidents in 2019.  But if COVID-19 eventually kills one to three percent of Americans, the fatality numbers would be two orders of magnitude greater:  between 3.3 million and 9.9 million dead.

What would vaccines that are 95 percent effective do to those numbers?  A one percent chance of dying from the disease would fall to 0.05 percent—a twenty-fold reduction.  In a group of 100,000 people, deaths would drop from 1000 to 50.  And if those 100,000 people were all in the high-risk 75-84 age range, the deaths would drop from 8,500 to 425.

The effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, however, will probably turn out to be even better than that.  First, the five percent who are not fully protected by their vaccine will probably still be partly protected and thus face less serious illness if they contract COVID-19.  Further, trial data released so far report only the prevention of symptoms, not the prevention of infection.  But since vaccines capable of preventing symptoms are also expected to sharply reduce infection and transmission, the risk of getting infected at all will fall alongside the risk of getting ill if infected.  So if enough people are vaccinated, the death rate will probably be even lower than the above numbers predict.  Ideally, these vaccines can bring COVID-19 to a grinding halt.

The astonishing availability of effective and safe vaccines just months after the start of this pandemic came not from reckless haste but pure diligence.  In addition to the tireless work of talented people, several factors made this “moonshot” possible.  Scientists began with information gleaned from earlier coronavirus outbreaks (SARS-CoV in 2002, MERS in 2012) and vaccine technology already under development for other RNA viruses (HIV, influenza, Ebola, Zika).  Within days of the initial Wuhan COVID-19 outbreak, Chinese virologists had cracked the SARS-CoV-2 genetic code, and vaccine developers went to work.  (For a description of how the RNA COVID-19 vaccines were designed, see the Appendix.)

5. Because I am my brother’s keeper.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:4-5).  “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14).

For Christians, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is the right thing to do because there is a pandemic, and each of us is his brother’s keeper—a matter raised by Cain in Genesis 4:8 and revisited throughout Scripture (e.g. Romans 14).  However, some Christians express a different view:  “People can take the vaccine if they want it.  I’m not taking it.  I’m young and in good shape.  I’ll deal with the consequences of my own actions.”  This view is especially prevalent in the U.S., a country that prizes individual sovereignty.  The Christian way, however, is individual sacrifice for the benefit of others.  If we remain self-focused, we will overlook this opportunity to show love for neighbors and set aside personal priorities in order to serve them.  Healthy people are vaccinated for the vulnerable—babies too young to mount an immune response, people with immune systems weakened by disease or drugs, older people with age-related immune incompetence, and first responders and healthcare workers with big occupational exposure.  In fact, the stronger you are, the more your community needs you to be immunized.

More than a medical issue, vaccination affects our public witness.  Vaccination is a community project for the common good, and each of should join in and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  The Lord said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  So how is it right to remain unvaccinated and take advantage of others, who by accepting the vaccine with its tiny risk create a human shield around you?  “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).  How is choosing to remain a potential viral spreader by remaining unvaccinated consistent with that verse?  And how will your testimony be affected if your unvaccinated child transmits a vaccine-preventable disease to a neighbor’s immunocompromised child, resulting in that child’s death?

6. Because we should submit to government policies.

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13).

Paul wrote to the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (13:1).  The apostle went on to point out that rulers are God’s servants for our good (13:4).  The governments of countries throughout the world are requesting that every eligible person accept a COVID-19 vaccine, and Christians should be the first to comply—especially in these cynical times.  Obedience is, after all, “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13).  If instead we choose to flaunt an anti-government attitude, we will only demoralize civil servants, discourage front-line healthcare workers, disgust the public, and dishonor the Lord.

7. Because receiving the vaccine does not support abortion.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20).

Medical research relies heavily on cell cultures—populations of cells originally removed from a living organism and then grown artificially in containers.  Under the proper conditions, these cells live and propagate for decades, and are commercially available for scientific use.  Regrettably, the original cells in some of these cultures were harvested from abortions performed in the 1960s and 1970s.  Although the vaccine developers at Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna did not use abortion-derived cell cultures in producing their COVID-19 vaccines, other companies did.  SARS-CoV-2 researchers at both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca used HEK-293, a cell line originally isolated from a baby girl aborted in the Netherlands in 1973.

The fetal tissues that started commercial cell cultures with names like HEK-293, MRC-5, and WI-38 were obtained in an era before the modern concept of informed consent existed.  Current U.S. law and medical ethics boards do not allow this kind of harvesting to happen today.  Further, the mothers in question opted to have abortions for (unjustified) personal reasons, not for the purpose of donating fetal tissue for research.  They had no notion that scientists were going to grow cell lines from their babies that over decades would lead to many advances in biology and medicine, including life-saving vaccines and revolutionary “biologic” agents now widely used in all medical specialties.

As Christians, we believe in the sanctity of life and condemn abortion and the industry that profits from it.  The passing of decades cannot entirely remove the moral taint from these fetal cell lines, and pro-life groups are rightly lobbying research centers and biotech companies to use only cell cultures that were started ethically.  Despite our misgivings, however, we are wrong if we insist that using these cell lines demands selling out to utilitarian end-justifies-the-means reasoning—an ethic unconscionable for believers (Rom. 3:8).  These elective abortions were not performed as a means to any end—they would have been performed regardless of any scientific interest in fetal cells.

Further, the use of these cell lines does not require embracing the Nazi doctors’ excuse at Nuremberg that since inmates were going to die anyway, they should be put to good use.  Dr. Mengele and others willingly joined and promoted an ongoing killing machine.  Most of their wretched concentration-camp experiments tortured victims prior to their deaths, or directly caused their deaths.  In contrast, accepting the benefits of research done with fetal cell lines—which include many new “biologic” wonder drugs—neither requires nor encourages new abortions and provides no profit to the abortion industry.  In the U.S. it is also illegal for a woman to profit from an abortion in any way.  Further, no step in vaccine development has any direct link to a previously aborted child.

We must also consider that our pro-life stance means regarding the dignity of every life.  Refusing to accept a vaccine distantly linked to a 1970s abortion will jeopardize not only our own lives, but also the lives of our loved ones and neighbors.  People whose vaccine refusal leads to further COVID-19 deaths can hardly be called pro-life—nor can those who wrongly believe that the disease should “just run its course” because “only old people are dying.”

The abortions that gave rise to cell cultures were indeed tragic wrongs.  However, a great deal of unintentional but lifesaving good has grown from these deaths.  To refuse the blessings that have arisen from these cell lines dishonors the memory of these infants.  Imagine this scenario:  A young girl with a fatal gunshot wound lies in an ER trauma bay on life support.  Just as a physician solemnly pronounces her brain-dead, a call comes from the next room that a second child urgently needs a heart transplant.  Is it wrong to donate the heart from the brain-dead child because she was murdered?  Obviously not—the girl’s tragic death would no longer be utterly in vain.  We must recognize the blatant moral difference between this scenario and deliberately murdering a person specifically to harvest an organ for transplantation.

Knowing that viral research and vaccine development sometimes involve cell lines originally derived from fetal tissue, some antivaccination advocates claim that the vaccines contain “fetal tissue” or “fetal DNA.”  This claim, which exposes their ignorance of what cell cultures are and how vaccines are made, is part of their larger emotional “toxins” gambit.  They contend that vaccines are also laden with a variety of poisons, citing mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde, and other chemicals with ominous names.  These “toxins,” they say, cause cancer, autoimmune disease, autism, Alzheimer dementia, and more.  But toxicologists know that the Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) got it right:  “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.”  So even conceding, for instance, that detectable traces of formaldehyde may remain in a vaccine from the production process, the amount is far too minuscule to cause harm.  Breathing and eating provide you with a daily load of toxins grossly in excess of a few tiny vaccine doses spread over a lifetime.

8. Because conspiracy theories are ungodly.

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.  Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7).  “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.  But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy.  Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:12-13).

Conspiracies do exist.  Corporate greed has created some famous examples—think Big Tobacco, Enron, Dieselgate, Bernie Madoff.  More importantly and menacingly, however, Paul warns us that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3).  Satan’s servants, who “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15), have infiltrated academia, politics, business, and the arts to attack God’s truth and righteousness.  Matthew provides an early example—the chief priests hatching a conspiracy plot to cover up the resurrection of Christ:  “they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble” (Mat. 28:12-13).

Conspiracy theories trade in lies and cost lives.  I write more sternly in this section because dangerous theories need to be exposed and rebuked (Eph. 5:11).  The people who weave these webs are convinced that nefarious powers, human or otherwise, are pulling the strings of the planet.  In general, conspiracy theorists are deeply suspicious of powerful people and institutions and seek simplistic explanations for complicated matters.  Like the old Gnostics, modern conspiracy theorists are convinced that only those in their circle have access to true knowledge.  Their recruits, once enlightened, are stunned that they could have missed such obvious wisdom and grateful to be freed from the masses of clueless sheeple duped by the evil ones.

Conspiracy theorists are bulletproof—completely shielded from arguments coming from external sources—because they simply reinterpret evidence that contradicts their theories as arising from the conspiracy itself.  This limitless capacity to explain inconsistencies makes their theories self-sealing.  The more criticism they receive, the more convinced they are that the whole thing is way bigger than anyone could have imagined.

Conspiracy theorists have never been fans of scientific medicine.  Their usual narrative alleges that governments, medical schools, and pharmaceutical companies have banded together to promote their drugs-and-surgery approach to disease while persecuting and even criminalizing more valid health theories like phrenology, reflexology, homeopathy, and naturopathy.  The more extreme theorists cast “Big Pharma” companies as heartless profiteers that hide the truth about their products and pay off doctors to use their drugs and vaccines.  They also accuse doctors of deliberately suppressing known cures to maximize profits by keeping patients sick.  Chief among scientific medicine’s objectives, they say, is forced vaccination—a harmful and unnecessary practice that blocks natural immunity, weakens the immune system, and causes disease.  Further, they paint government authorities entrusted to protect your health as overreaching tyrants who want to strip you of your inalienable rights.

People who oppose childhood immunization especially criticize “MMR” (the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine) for causing autism spectrum disorders.  I write with compassion for those who have children with autism and understand that most who believe this link are good and intelligent people—though misinformed.  The MMR-autism story is a conspiracy theory.  Logically, only one of two contrarian views can be true:  either 1) the MMR vaccine does not cause autism or 2) a vast international conspiracy involving thousands of researchers, academicians, and public health officials—again, in the pocket of Big Pharma—are hiding the truth.  The fact that these “conspirators” vaccinate their own children and grandchildren with MMR doesn’t fit the plot, however, unless the conspiracy enlarges to claim that the perpetrators know some way of preventing autism that they are keeping from the public.

Ironically, conspiracy theorists rarely discover true conspiracies.  The real plots are instead discovered by conventional thinking—healthy skepticism, careful sifting of evidence, and commitment to internally consistent logic.  This is the very mode of thinking we desperately need during this “infodemic”—the glut of information both true and false that followed the pandemic and now outpaces it.  Beware of amateur sleuths posting on Facebook in search of more “likes.”  Remember that what is anti-rational is anti-Christian.  Paul warns us to “reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness” (2 Tim. 4:7 NET).

9. Because science and medical therapy are Biblical.

“God is not the author of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:23).  “Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there?  Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?” (Jer. 8:22).

Modern science is Christianity’s gift to the world.  As even secular historians admit, credit for the scientific revolution goes not to atheists or even deists, but to Bible-believing Christians.  Pagan civilizations, despite some impressive engineering feats and architectural marvels, lacked the soil needed to grow real science.  So while it wilted in Egypt and Athens and Rome and China, the scientific method sprouted and thrived on Christianity’s fertile ground.  The Biblical worldview centers on the true and rational God who through His Son created and sustains the universe (Col. 1:16-17).  He who does not lie or change controls His orderly cosmos by precise and predictable laws (Titus 1:2; Heb. 13:8).  And when the Lord instructed Adam to subdue and rule the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), He was challenging him to use his genius to unlock nature’s potential and harness its resources for his benefit and God’s glory.

Christian thinkers knew that the Creator would not whimsically revise His cosmic rule-book, and so grew confident that His intelligible universe contained objective truth worth exploring.  But by what method?  The best method turned out to be what we call science—a system that presupposes a logical and stable universe and combines reason and experience to discover how creation works.  Although we can trace its roots to Roger Bacon (ca. 1213-1292), who said, “Holy Scripture is the foundation of all sciences,” the scientific method finally blossomed through the Reformers’ view of Scripture.  (Note that this took place long before the fictitious “Enlightenment.”)  Their Sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”) axiom meant discarding false philosophies and bogus stories of the past and allowing Biblical truth to speak for itself.  This literal, historical, grammatical approach to God’s Word proved to be mind-expanding:  scholars learned to approach Biblical data inductively, collate the relevant facts, and draw deductive conclusions.

Transferring this method to natural phenomena was straightforward:  devout scientists realized that they should study nature in the same way they studied the Bible.  Forget what Protagoras or the pope said about how nature should work; what do experimental data say about how it does work?  Rejecting old allegories, mere intuition, and just-so stories, they began to observe nature directly, design experiments, gather data, and draw conclusions.  Although wisps of the scientific method had been in use for centuries, modern science finally solidified on Reformation principles.  Consider Isaac Newton (1643-1727):  the man who brought the scientific method to its summit was a Biblical literalist, young-earth creationist, and millennialist who wrote far more about Scripture than science.

Biblical, rational thinking does not come naturally or easily.  We automatically draw the most obvious inference from something we observe—but we are often wrong.  We subconsciously cherry-pick evidence that supports our views.  We also forget that the number of people who believe something has nothing to do with its validity.  To find the truth, we need to discipline ourselves to use the method that best manages our finitude, bias, gullibility, narrowness, wishful thinking, and frailty in the face of peer pressure.

For the natural world, experimental science is that tool.  Medical researchers, for example, conduct carefully designed randomized, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover experiments to generate the best possible data.  Then they organize and analyze and ponder the data, present them at open professional conferences, and publish them in refereed journals.  Even after other scientists have verified their findings by reproducing them, their conclusions must still withstand rational criticism for years.

Instead of cherishing this Christian heritage—a system birthed and matured by the Biblical worldview—many believers disown it.  They are skeptical of modern scientists who have hijacked “science” to prove and promote godless nonsense like “everything-from-nothing” cosmology and “molecules-to-man” evolution.  Christians further recoil from “social scientists” who advance cultural and political dockets like gender identity and critical race theory under the aegis of “science.”

True science, however, supports none of these unscriptural lies and distortions.  The spokesmen trumpeting them are speaking not as scientists but as propagandists—pawns of the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4).  They have forgotten (or never knew) that as scientists they stand on the shoulders of devout forbearers.  Further, their anti-Christian screeds are anti-scientific and self-refuting—like stating, “All English sentences contain six words or less.”  Any secularist using “science” to undermine Biblical truth must unwittingly assume the truth of the Christian worldview to attack it, because the fixed laws of logic demand an absolute Logician; the atheist’s imaginary chance-built universe provides no basis for stable reasoning.

Strictly, anything that cannot be measured and repeatedly demonstrated by experimentation is outside the scope of true science.  So true empirical science clashes with speculative “historical science” (because its data are unrepeatable) and subjective “social science” (because its data cannot be measured objectively).  “Social science” and “historical science” are therefore oxymorons front-loaded with biased assumptions and unfalsifiable opinions.  To be fair, if those assumptions are correct and the measurements accurate, historical and social science have great value.  But while experimental science seeks to discover truth, pseudoscience too often seeks to advance agendas.  True science is a useful tool; materialistic Scientism is a godless religion.

Christians are free to jettison pseudoscientific propaganda founded on godless philosophy and human speculation.  They are not free, however, to discard the genuine article.  Christians should dauntlessly advocate for truth in every domain of life because their God is truth (Rom. 3:4; John 14:6; 1 John 5:6; Dan. 10:21).  Rejecting falsehood masquerading as truth is godly; rejecting truth itself is ungodly.  This distinction matters because pseudoscience is dangerous—even deadly.  Pseudoscientific fables like materialistic evolution and gender fluidity promote atheism in a world that needs the gospel.  But the curse cuts both way.  Christians can also promote false ideas, like anti-GMO pseudoscience that deprives the world of needed food, and anti-vaccination pseudoscience that multiplies suffering and death from preventable disease.

Medical research is true science, and thoroughly Biblical.  The fall brought disease and death, and lives spent fearing both (Rom. 5:12; Heb. 2:15).  But the God who rightly cursed the earth is also gracious—He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and often softens the blow of the curse by restoring health and delaying death (Eze. 33:11; Psa. 103:3).  When He chooses to heal, He uses means like prayer and medical treatment.  God’s Word records the use of simple substances like oil and wine—medicines of the day—to promote healing (Luke 10:34; 1 Tim. 5:23; Jam. 5:14).  The Lord once instructed Isaiah to apply a fig poultice to Hezekiah’s infected skin (Isa. 38:21).  Similarly, Christ’s disciples “anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13).

The Lord Jesus portrayed Himself as a Healer when He quoted the proverb “physician, heal yourself” and when He affirmed that “those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 4:23; 5:31).  Further, Luke the “beloved physician” portrays the Saviour as a Doctor who “cured those who had need of healing” (Col. 4:14; Luke 9:11).  Every believer’s body belongs to Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  As stewards of bodies belonging to God and intended to glorify Him, we must take good care of them.  Thus we pray for good health and welcome medical therapy (3 John 1:2).

Christians ought to see medical science as part of God’s common grace and regard prevention and treatment of disease as a Biblical mandate.  Historically, Christians attended the sick while pagans largely ignored them.  Christians moved in and cared for plague victims and war casualties while others kept away.  Christians conceived the hospital and sent medical missionaries abroad to bring physical aid as a context for spreading the gospel.  This tradition lives on in modern relief organizations like Samaritan’s Purse.  And the advent of scientific medicine in more recent times vastly improved what simple care and hygiene could do.  So whether we call it scientific compassion or compassionate science, medical research applied to real lives has been a Biblical boon to people everywhere.

Among many marvels, vaccination has arguably saved more lives and generated more well-being than any other scientific intervention.  Therefore opposing vaccination means opposing science and undermining public health.  Like any pseudoscience, the anti-vaccination stance arises from the very epistemological errors that the Reformers fought against:  anecdote, intuition, appeal to authority, ignorance, cherry-picking, feelings, bias.  Stories of bad outcomes following vaccination are emotionally compelling but scientifically baseless—unless they can be proven by statistical methods.  In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, cogent science compels Christians to accept a vaccine to avoid both contracting the virus and spreading it to others.

10. Footnote

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25). “Finally, brothers, whatever is true … think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

If you are still reading, thanks!  You can easily verify the many facts in this paper by searching reputable websites or by contacting me for help at davidvallance@sbcglobal.net.  I would love to steer open-minded and sincere inquirers to reliable information.  But please note that I will not argue with you.  The COVID-19 pandemic has direly demonstrated that misinformation has immediate, real-world, life-and-death consequences.  Truth matters.

Appendix:  On the making of an RNA vaccine.

Viruses, like other organisms, store their information in microscopic units of heritable information called genes.  Each gene contains the instruction code for constructing a single protein.  Some viruses like herpesviruses store their genetic information, as humans do, in DNA.  To make use of the information encoded in a DNA gene, cellular machinery first transcribes the DNA master copy into a disposable working copy called RNA, and then translates that RNA template into a protein.  Viruses like SARS-CoV-2, however, store their genetic information not in DNA, but in RNA, so their genes are ready for immediate translation into protein the moment the virus penetrates a cell.

Vaccines have traditionally been made of viral or bacterial parts or products, or of whole and live but weakened versions of a pathogen.  In recent years, however, scientists have explored the simpler and safer possibility of making vaccines from a piece of the pathogen’s RNA and letting the human cellular machinery do the translating and make the viral protein.  An RNA vaccine for COVID-19 would contain only a snippet of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome, so the injection could not cause COVID-19 (or any other infection).  Once the human cells produce and disperse the protein encoded on the viral RNA fragment, the immune system would learn to recognize and devise means to attack this viral protein.

The idea worked better than expected.  And RNA is easy to make and safe to inject.  The immune system does not recognize RNA, so an injected RNA fragment itself will not trigger an immune reaction or an autoimmune disease (although highly allergic people might react to other vaccine ingredients).  Further, the RNA vaccine and the human cells that take it up do not contain an enzyme able to back-transcribe RNA into DNA, so RNA-fragment vaccines cannot cause mutation or cancer by being randomly spliced into the human DNA genome.

Once scientists had spelled out the RNA code for the fifteen or so SARS-CoV-2 proteins, vaccine developers zoomed in on the small RNA piece that directs the manufacture of the external “spike proteins,” the jutting barbs that enable the virus to fasten to human cells and give coronavirus its name (Latin corona mean “crown”).  The strategy was first to get synthetic RNA coding for spike protein to penetrate human cells, and then to have cellular machinery read the RNA instructions, create only viral spikes, and then present these foreign proteins to the immune system for attack.  If T-cells and antibodies could be trained to recognize and attach to this spike protein, then when the real SARS-CoV-2 entered, these cells and antibodies would immediately block viruses from entering cells and recruit molecular bioweapons to destroy these pathogens.

The tactical trick was how to safely steer this snippet of viral RNA into human cells intact.  Unlike DNA, RNA is fragile by design, only meant to last a few hours inside cells (this explains the need for super-cold storage temperatures).  Roving enzymes quickly chop up any naked RNA strands floating around outside cells.  Taking a cue from the virus’s own use of a fatty outer coat, scientists enveloped their synthetic RNA in tiny fat droplets called lipid nanoparticles.  These particles protect RNA and survive long enough after injection to fuse with human cells and deliver the spike-protein RNA.  As soon as cells start generating spike protein, the immune system directs T-cells and antibodies against it, rendering a vaccinated person immune to COVID-19.