Faith and vaccines: Why Religion can help or hinder vaccination rates

Before we get into this discussion some clarification is necessary. I am a Christian, usually going under the label of non-denominational. My political views are fairly independent, sometimes left leaning sometimes right leaning. Faith, politics, and science has always been a really important part of my life, being the foundation for the majority of my views, behavior, and beliefs. I’ve been serving at my church for 7 years, and I led a debate club in my High school for about two years.

To really understand how important my faith is to me, you’d need to meet me in person. I could tell you that I want to go into ministry, I could tell you that for years I’ve been studying the Bible to become a pastor. I could tell you all the books I read and how amazing Jesus has been in my life. But telling you that still doesn’t express how fundamental my Christians beliefs are to me.

I even wrote a book titled “10,000 Words of Silence: the R.E.A.L solutions for your youth group” which I’m trying my hardest to release soon (I’ve been fairly busy). Because of all this, discussions about the church, religion, and philosophy are deeply personal conversations that I care so much about. This blog post is one such discussion, a conversation I deeply want to convey in a way that is understandable, impactful, and convincing.

From the title, you probably guessed what dialogue I’m trying to facilitate, what point I’m going to try and get across. And before you jump to the discussion, I want to state one important truth; YOU CAN BELIEVE IN GOD AND DISAGREE WITH PEOPLE

In my time advocating for vaccines, I’ve seen numerous claims, criticisms, and angry comments trying to prove I cannot be pro-vaccine and a Christian. These claims only serve to divide people, and aren’t even true. For those familiar with debate, saying you cannot believe in Jesus and be pro-vaccine is an appeal to false authority, a common logical fallacy. So going into this discussion, understand I am in no way presenting that as a valid criticism of vaccine hesitancy or antivaxxers. Antivaxxers can believe in God, in fact most of them probably do. I would never challenge the faith of someone during a scientific debate, so don’t do the same here.

Although people within the same faith can often find conflict the scientific community, doctors, and medical professionals of any kind are accused to be godless far more often. The intersection between science and faith is one that has constantly been under stress and criticism from both the secular and faith-based communities. Whether it’s evolution, medicine, or even the existence of God entirely, science most certainly is at the very least presented as the opposition to these ideas. You know what I mean, in nearly every religious movie the bad guy is a professor, a scientist, someone who worships logic over God (if you’re unaware of what I’m talking about watch any movie by “Pureflix”).

This division isn’t fictional or even largely exaggerated. Pew Research center found that nearly half of adults say churches should not express their views on policy decisions about scientific issues, while 46% say churches should keep out of such matters. The same study also found 59% of people claim religion and science are often in conflict, with only 38% saying they are mostly compatible.

That’s not very surprising, with more than half of Americans believing religion and science often conflict, you’d assume there would be similar disagreement on what commentary a church should make on scientific issues. However, how many people would you guess say their own views contrast with science? 50%? 60%? No, only 30%. While more than half of the people in this study believed science and religion often are in conflict, the same individuals will just as easily ignore the implications of their own religious views.

This is extremely concerning, because religious communities acknowledging a conflict between science and faith but believing they themselves aren’t in any conflict can create some dangerous and false scientific assumptions. And the biggest of these false assumptions is regarding vaccines. As we move further into this discussion around science, faith, and vaccines keep in mind these concerns and questions; do science and faith conflict? Do religious leaders have a role in addressing misinformation? What religions or doctrines might prohibit vaccinations?

Part 1: Coughing congregants

For the beginning of our dialogue about vaccines and religion, I want to first discuss the actual impacts anti-vaccine rhetoric has on religious communities. We’ll look at past outbreaks, actual religious beliefs, and what challenges these outbreaks present.

The most well known community that has suffered from misinformation leading to preventable disease outbreaks is the Orthodox Jewish communities. You may have heard that earlier this year outbreaks of Measles in these communities reached nearly 200 confirmed cases in New York, being one of the most severe outbreaks of measles in decades. The New York Times said, “health officials discovered that some religious schools, or yeshivas, in ultra-Orthodox communities in Rockland County had vaccination rates as low as 60 percent, far below the state average of 92.5 percent. Audits found that some schools were overreporting vaccination rates,” and this is a major concern.

For herd immunity to work, (the concept that a community is protected from diseases by having the majority of the populus vaccinated) The Oxford Vaccine group says measles needs to have a 90-95% vaccination rate in any given community. So these schools were having rates nearly 30% lower than the recommended amount of vaccinated individuals. Why did this happen?

Misinformation was reaching these jewish communities and causing low vaccination rates, with emails and flyers saying, “Vaccines contain monkey, rat and pig DNA as well as cow-serum blood, all of which are forbidden for consumption according to kosher dietary law.”

That claim was sent in an email, as antivaxxers specifically sent out misinformation to these jewish communities using their religious beliefs to draw a claim that vaccines were somehow immoral. You can find the actual ingredients for vaccines HERE, and just so were on the same page claiming there is “Pig DNA in vaccines” is ridiculous.

“Gelatine derived from pigs is used in some live vaccines as a stabiliser to protect live viruses against the effects of temperature. Gelatine in vaccines is highly purified and hydrolysed (broken down by water), so it is different from the natural gelatine used in foods. For example, very sensitive scientific tests have shown that no DNA from pigs can be detected in the nasal flu vaccine (Fluenz). These tests show that the gelatine is broken down so much that the original source cannot be identified.”

Making these exaggerated claims that are so detached from the truth of the situation are dangerous, because it ignores important details like this which destroy such a false narrative. However, the Jewish communities already distrusted the health departments in New York, after health officials attempted to limit a circumcision practice involving Jewish Mohels placing their mouth over the babies penis. This made them more susceptible to anti-vaccine misinformation, because a narrative was presented that health officials shouldn’t be trusted. With skepticism of health officials already existing, it seemed science was attempting to ruin Jewish traditions.

However, the Jewish community and faith is not neglecting these negative impacts and the real risk of a disease like measles. Rabbi David Niederman spoke about the importance of vaccines with the Washington Post, saying “We are telling people the health department is looking out for your health…They are the experts and you should take the vaccinations.”

Religious leaders like Rabbi Niederman are important to stop these outbreaks, because these religious leaders have obvious authority and reinforcing the importance of something like vaccines is a vital step we need to take in order to ensure proper inoculation rates.

Part 2: Faith in vaccines

Rabbi Niederman commenting on vaccines and speaking to the importance of his community being vaccinated is vital but dangerous at the same time. Religious leaders risk serious criticism for taking a stance on a medical issue, as earlier we even discussed how nearly half of Americans don’t believe a church should express their views on scientific issues. Due to this, churches, religious leaders, pastors, and rabbis all might decide risking division within their church isn’t worth weighing in on these issues.

Despite this, multiple religions have spoken about vaccines openly to stop churches from avoiding these concerns. For instance, Islamic leaders created the Dakar Declaration on Vaccination to express how Islamic faith allows for vaccines and even quoting Islamic prophets to show how vaccines are actually supported by the faith.

“The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: “There is no disease that God has created for which He has not made a cure that is known by some people and unbeknownst to others, except death.” (Authenticated by Ibn Majah)

Interestingly, in this declaration the safety of vaccines is reinforced and upheld as overwhelming, along with statistics from the W.H.O showing how many lives vaccines have saved. The declaration also strongly condemns, “ all forms of defamation and harassment perpetrated against workers in immunization programs” showing that even leaders of the Islamic faith are aware of antivaxxers using their skepticism to justify hate and harassment.

The Catholic church, one of the most authoritative and fundamentalist denomination of Christianity, made a similar statement. The national catholic Bioethics center established support of vaccines and even has an FAQ regarding vaccines HERE. When asked for elaboration on vaccines containing aborted human cells, Antonio Spagnolo, a medical doctor and bioethics professor at Rome's Sacred Heart University stated

“there is an acceptable distance" from cooperating with the original evil of the abortions when people use the vaccines to prevent the "great danger" of spreading disease. He said the Vatican academy's "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses" made the church's position clear.” Although, the church wants the scientific community to refrain from using these cells or further causing question to the sanctity of human life by using similar methods for further developments.

Most don’t understand why these aborted cells are used in the first place. Historyofvaccines.org details the past use of human cell strains in vaccines HERE, and says,

“In 1941, Australian ophthalmologist Norman Gregg first realized that congenital cataracts in babies were the result of their mothers being infected with rubella during pregnancy. Along with cataracts, it was eventually determined that congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) could also cause deafness, heart disease, encephalitis, mental retardation, and pneumonia, among many other conditions. At the height of a rubella epidemic that began in Europe and spread to the United States in the mid-1960s, Plotkin calculated that 1% of all births at Philadelphia General Hospital were affected by congenital rubella syndrome. In some cases, women who were infected with rubella while pregnant terminated their pregnancies due to the serious risks from CRS.

Following one such abortion, the fetus was sent to Plotkin at the laboratory he had devoted to rubella research. Testing the kidney of the fetus, Plotkin found and isolated the rubella virus. Separately, Leonard Hayflick (also working at the Wistar Institute at that time) developed a cell strain called WI-38 using lung cells from an aborted fetus. Hayflick found that many viruses, including rubella, grew well in the WI-38, and he showed that it proved to be free of contaminants and safe to use for human vaccines.”

Other vaccines use a similar strain of human cells, however the cells Plotkin used came from an aborted fetus that was going to be born with serious complications because Rubella had no vaccine. On top of that, only two cells were used in the cell culture which developed these cells. The abortion for the rubella vaccine occurred 78 years ago, and the MMR vaccine has saved nearly 17 million lives. This is why Catholic officials claimed “acceptable distance” exist from this abortion, and the lives saved heavily outweigh the moral complications of the cells origin.

Other objections to vaccines, including claims that vaccines aren’t necessary because of God’s invention of the immune system being substantial enough to protect people from disease, hold no logic. Not a single religious official with any substantial knowledge of their faith system would claim people have perfect immune systems. God did make the world perfect in nearly every belief structure, however in most faiths a fall into sin or disparity caused suffering and evil. That suffering and evil extends to our physical bodies, as they deteriorate and die.

Alongside this philosophical objection, the same idea could be presented in defense of vaccines, saying God made our minds perfect and therefore the doctors and scientist who developed these vaccines did so through God's approval. This however, is not a real or substantial argument, but goes along the same exact logic as the previous claim.

In the end, no religious doctrine changes the factual evidence that vaccines are safe and effective. Whatever objections you make upon these grounds ignores that, and is threatening to sway people away from the safety of vaccines on the illogical religious claims. And knowingly doing so is immoral.

Part 3: what does this mean for me?

In the end, this discussion around the religious claims, objections, and even support of vaccines, is important to understand. Antivaxxers often will claim religious individuals cannot support vaccines and support their faith at the same time. This claim is unfair, yet common.

On top of this, religious leaders and organizations have voiced their support of vaccines out of necessity. We continue to see preventable disease outbreaks, especially in these traditional and orthodox communities. These outbreaks are costly, and could threaten the safety of people with our general and religious communities.

Our churches, pastors, Rabbis, and elders need to take this stance and support vaccines to help ensure these outbreaks don’t occur. Childcare in churches should make sure children are vaccinated to maintain the health and safety of children under the responsibility of volunteers and by extension, the churches care.

I say this out of love, and that as someone who is heavily involved in my church and community, I would never want to see preventable disease damage my friends, family, or church.


Before we get into this discussion some clarification is necessary. I am a Christian, usually going under the label of non-denominational. My political views are fairly independent, sometimes left leaning sometimes right leaning. Faith, politics, and science has always been a really important part of my life, being the foundation for the majority of my views, behavior, and beliefs. I’ve been serving at my church for 7 years, and I led a debate club in my High school for about two years.

To really understand how important my faith is to me, you’d need to meet me in person. I could tell you that I want to go into ministry, I could tell you that for years I’ve been studying the Bible to become a pastor. I could tell you all the books I read and how amazing Jesus has been in my life. But telling you that still doesn’t express how fundamental my Christians beliefs are to me.

I even wrote a book titled “10,000 Words of Silence: the R.E.A.L solutions for your youth group” which I’m trying my hardest to release soon (I’ve been fairly busy). Because of all this, discussions about the church, religion, and philosophy are deeply personal conversations that I care so much about. This blog post is one such discussion, a conversation I deeply want to convey in a way that is understandable, impactful, and convincing.

From the title, you probably guessed what dialogue I’m trying to facilitate, what point I’m going to try and get across. And before you jump to the discussion, I want to state one important truth; YOU CAN BELIEVE IN GOD AND DISAGREE WITH PEOPLE

In my time advocating for vaccines, I’ve seen numerous claims, criticisms, and angry comments trying to prove I cannot be pro-vaccine and a Christian. These claims only serve to divide people, and aren’t even true. For those familiar with debate, saying you cannot believe in Jesus and be pro-vaccine is an appeal to false authority, a common logical fallacy. So going into this discussion, understand I am in no way presenting that as a valid criticism of vaccine hesitancy or antivaxxers. Antivaxxers can believe in God, in fact most of them probably do. I would never challenge the faith of someone during a scientific debate, so don’t do the same here.

Although people within the same faith can often find conflict the scientific community, doctors, and medical professionals of any kind are accused to be godless far more often. The intersection between science and faith is one that has constantly been under stress and criticism from both the secular and faith-based communities. Whether it’s evolution, medicine, or even the existence of God entirely, science most certainly is at the very least presented as the opposition to these ideas. You know what I mean, in nearly every religious movie the bad guy is a professor, a scientist, someone who worships logic over God (if you’re unaware of what I’m talking about watch any movie by “Pureflix”).

This division isn’t fictional or even largely exaggerated. Pew Research center found that nearly half of adults say churches should not express their views on policy decisions about scientific issues, while 46% say churches should keep out of such matters. The same study also found 59% of people claim religion and science are often in conflict, with only 38% saying they are mostly compatible.

That’s not very surprising, with more than half of Americans believing religion and science often conflict, you’d assume there would be similar disagreement on what commentary a church should make on scientific issues. However, how many people would you guess say their own views contrast with science? 50%? 60%? No, only 30%. While more than half of the people in this study believed science and religion often are in conflict, the same individuals will just as easily ignore the implications of their own religious views.

This is extremely concerning, because religious communities acknowledging a conflict between science and faith but believing they themselves aren’t in any conflict can create some dangerous and false scientific assumptions. And the biggest of these false assumptions is regarding vaccines. As we move further into this discussion around science, faith, and vaccines keep in mind these concerns and questions; do science and faith conflict? Do religious leaders have a role in addressing misinformation? What religions or doctrines might prohibit vaccinations?


Part 1: Coughing congregants

For the beginning of our dialogue about vaccines and religion, I want to first discuss the actual impacts anti-vaccine rhetoric has on religious communities. We’ll look at past outbreaks, actual religious beliefs, and what challenges these outbreaks present.

The most well known community that has suffered from misinformation leading to preventable disease outbreaks is the Orthodox Jewish communities. You may have heard that earlier this year outbreaks of Measles in these communities reached nearly 200 confirmed cases in New York, being one of the most severe outbreaks of measles in decades. The New York Times said, “health officials discovered that some religious schools, or yeshivas, in ultra-Orthodox communities in Rockland County had vaccination rates as low as 60 percent, far below the state average of 92.5 percent. Audits found that some schools were overreporting vaccination rates,” and this is a major concern.

For herd immunity to work, (the concept that a community is protected from diseases by having the majority of the populus vaccinated) The Oxford Vaccine group says measles needs to have a 90-95% vaccination rate in any given community. So these schools were having rates nearly 30% lower than the recommended amount of vaccinated individuals. Why did this happen?

Misinformation was reaching these jewish communities and causing low vaccination rates, with emails and flyers saying, “Vaccines contain monkey, rat and pig DNA as well as cow-serum blood, all of which are forbidden for consumption according to kosher dietary law.”

That claim was sent in an email, as antivaxxers specifically sent out misinformation to these jewish communities using their religious beliefs to draw a claim that vaccines were somehow immoral. You can find the actual ingredients for vaccines HERE, and just so were on the same page claiming there is “Pig DNA in vaccines” is ridiculous.

“Gelatine derived from pigs is used in some live vaccines as a stabiliser to protect live viruses against the effects of temperature. Gelatine in vaccines is highly purified and hydrolysed (broken down by water), so it is different from the natural gelatine used in foods. For example, very sensitive scientific tests have shown that no DNA from pigs can be detected in the nasal flu vaccine (Fluenz). These tests show that the gelatine is broken down so much that the original source cannot be identified.”

Making these exaggerated claims that are so detached from the truth of the situation are dangerous, because it ignores important details like this which destroy such a false narrative. However, the Jewish communities already distrusted the health departments in New York, after health officials attempted to limit a circumcision practice involving Jewish Mohels placing their mouth over the babies penis. This made them more susceptible to anti-vaccine misinformation, because a narrative was presented that health officials shouldn’t be trusted. With skepticism of health officials already existing, it seemed science was attempting to ruin Jewish traditions.

However, the Jewish community and faith is not neglecting these negative impacts and the real risk of a disease like measles. Rabbi David Niederman spoke about the importance of vaccines with the Washington Post, saying “We are telling people the health department is looking out for your health…They are the experts and you should take the vaccinations.”

Religious leaders like Rabbi Niederman are important to stop these outbreaks, because these religious leaders have obvious authority and reinforcing the importance of something like vaccines is a vital step we need to take in order to ensure proper inoculation rates.


Part 2: Faith in vaccines

Rabbi Niederman commenting on vaccines and speaking to the importance of his community being vaccinated is vital but dangerous at the same time. Religious leaders risk serious criticism for taking a stance on a medical issue, as earlier we even discussed how nearly half of Americans don’t believe a church should express their views on scientific issues. Due to this, churches, religious leaders, pastors, and rabbis all might decide risking division within their church isn’t worth weighing in on these issues.

Despite this, multiple religions have spoken about vaccines openly to stop churches from avoiding these concerns. For instance, Islamic leaders created the Dakar Declaration on Vaccination to express how Islamic faith allows for vaccines and even quoting Islamic prophets to show how vaccines are actually supported by the faith.

“The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: “There is no disease that God has created for which He has not made a cure that is known by some people and unbeknownst to others, except death.” (Authenticated by Ibn Majah)

Interestingly, in this declaration the safety of vaccines is reinforced and upheld as overwhelming, along with statistics from the W.H.O showing how many lives vaccines have saved. The declaration also strongly condemns, “ all forms of defamation and harassment perpetrated against workers in immunization programs” showing that even leaders of the Islamic faith are aware of antivaxxers using their skepticism to justify hate and harassment.

The Catholic church, one of the most authoritative and fundamentalist denomination of Christianity, made a similar statement. The national catholic Bioethics center established support of vaccines and even has an FAQ regarding vaccines HERE. When asked for elaboration on vaccines containing aborted human cells, Antonio Spagnolo, a medical doctor and bioethics professor at Rome's Sacred Heart University stated

“there is an acceptable distance" from cooperating with the original evil of the abortions when people use the vaccines to prevent the "great danger" of spreading disease. He said the Vatican academy's "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses" made the church's position clear.” Although, the church wants the scientific community to refrain from using these cells or further causing question to the sanctity of human life by using similar methods for further developments.

Most don’t understand why these aborted cells are used in the first place. Historyofvaccines.org details the past use of human cell strains in vaccines HERE, and says,

“In 1941, Australian ophthalmologist Norman Gregg first realized that congenital cataracts in babies were the result of their mothers being infected with rubella during pregnancy. Along with cataracts, it was eventually determined that congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) could also cause deafness, heart disease, encephalitis, mental retardation, and pneumonia, among many other conditions. At the height of a rubella epidemic that began in Europe and spread to the United States in the mid-1960s, Plotkin calculated that 1% of all births at Philadelphia General Hospital were affected by congenital rubella syndrome. In some cases, women who were infected with rubella while pregnant terminated their pregnancies due to the serious risks from CRS.

Following one such abortion, the fetus was sent to Plotkin at the laboratory he had devoted to rubella research. Testing the kidney of the fetus, Plotkin found and isolated the rubella virus. Separately, Leonard Hayflick (also working at the Wistar Institute at that time) developed a cell strain called WI-38 using lung cells from an aborted fetus. Hayflick found that many viruses, including rubella, grew well in the WI-38, and he showed that it proved to be free of contaminants and safe to use for human vaccines.”

Other vaccines use a similar strain of human cells, however the cells Plotkin used came from an aborted fetus that was going to be born with serious complications because Rubella had no vaccine. On top of that, only two cells were used in the cell culture which developed these cells. The abortion for the rubella vaccine occured 78 years ago, and the MMR vaccine has saved nearly 17 million lives. This is why Catholic officials claimed “acceptable distance” exist from this abortion, and the lives saved heavily outweigh the moral complications of the cells origin.

Other objections to vaccines, including claims that vaccines aren’t necessary because of God’s invention of the immune system being substantial enough to protect people from disease, hold no logic. Not a single religious official with any substantial knowledge of their faith system would claim people have perfect immune systems. God did make the world perfect in nearly every belief structure, however in most faiths a fall into sin or disparity caused suffering and evil. That suffering and evil extends to our physical bodies, as they deteriorate and die.

Alongside this philosophical objection, the same idea could be presented in defense of vaccines, saying God made our minds perfect and therefore the doctors and scientist who developed these vaccines did so through God's approval. This however, is not a real or substantial argument, but goes along the same exact logic as the previous claim.

In the end, no religious doctrine changes the factual evidence that vaccines are safe and effective. Whatever objections you make upon these grounds ignores that, and is threatening to sway people away from the safety of vaccines on the illogical religious claims. And knowingly doing so is immoral.

 

Part 3: what does this mean for me?

In the end, this discussion around the religious claims, objections, and even support of vaccines, is important to understand. Antivaxxers often will claim religious individuals cannot support vaccines and support their faith at the same time. This claim is unfair, yet common.

On top of this, religious leaders and organizations have voiced their support of vaccines out of necessity. We continue to see preventable disease outbreaks, especially in these traditional and orthodox communities. These outbreaks are costly, and could threaten the safety of people within our entire community.

Our churches, pastors, Rabbis, and elders need to take this stance and support vaccines to help ensure these outbreaks don’t occur. Childcare in churches should make sure children are vaccinated to maintain the health and safety of children who are under the responsibility of volunteers and by extension, the churches care.

I say this out of love, and that as someone who is heavily involved in my church and community, I would never want to see preventable disease damage my friends, family, or church. As someone wanting to become a pastor, faith and science do not need to conflict. They can come together in supporting the prevention of diseases which should be erased from our nation and the world at large. That starts with leaders and church goers calling for a change, and voicing their support of science.

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