Jesus once told a story of a man beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. After some religious people passed by without helping, the man now known as the Good Samaritan chose to stop and get the victim medical help.
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached on this parable, he said that the first question people passing by asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”
“But then the Good Samaritan came by,” King said. “And he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
As COVID-19 vaccines become more available, these questions are now ours to answer. And people who can receive the vaccine have a moral responsibility to do so, for the benefit of themselves and their neighbors. The question is not, “If I get vaccinated, what will happen to me?” It is, “If I do not get vaccinated, what will happen to my neighbor?”
Advances in medical science have protected against more diseases than ever before. Some diseases that once injured or killed many have been eliminated completely, and others are close to extinction, primarily due to safe and effective vaccines. Thanks to vaccinations, both polio and smallpox have been eradicated in the United States, and smallpox vaccination has also eradicated the disease worldwide. This is the benefit of vaccines.
The clinical trials of both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have shown that they are safe and effective, and therefore both have been approved as an emergency use authorization. Many wonder how vaccines can be proven safe and effective when developed so quickly. But both vaccines are the result of over 30 years of mRNA vaccine research to respond to coronaviruses. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in dramatic funding increases for mRNA research, allowing these two vaccines to be developed for safe, widespread use.
The COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you by creating an antibody response without having to experience illness. The vaccine may cause short-term side effects like headache, fatigue, muscle pain, and fever, but this is common with vaccinations, and is a sign your immune system is working. The vaccines for COVID-19 are not live vaccines, so you cannot get COVID-19 from them.
Medical treatments, including vaccines, typically come with some risk. However, many of us take daily medications for blood pressure, arthritis, anxiety, and cholesterol. Each medication comes with potential side effects, yet we take it because the benefits far outweigh potential risks. Serious side effects following vaccination such as a severe allergic reaction are very rare, and vaccines are among the safest forms of medicine. The risks of contracting COVID-19, a virus 10 times deadlier than the seasonal flu, are far more dangerous than the risks associated with vaccination.
An ethical concern among some Christians is that fetal cells are sometimes used in vaccine research. However, no fetuses are or ever have been aborted for this purpose. And according to the Mayo Clinic, neither of the two approved vaccines contains fetal cells, nor were fetal cells used in the development or production of either vaccine. The U.S. Catholic Bishops released a statement in December calling the use of these two vaccines morally justified because of “the fact that the connection between an abortion that occurred decades ago and receiving a vaccine produced today is remote.”
Albert Giubilini, author of The Ethics of Vaccination, says ethics help us determine when and how we should make choices that are not only in our self-interest, but are also or even primarily in the interest of others. He states that during the 2017-18 flu season at a high school in Italy, all the students and teachers decided to get vaccinated against the flu because one student in the school was immunocompromised and would be at risk of severe consequences should he be infected with the flu. Those healthy students and teachers would have likely survived the flu with little to no residual effects, but they chose to care for a student and classmate by getting vaccinated.
As a nurse and pastor, we believe that science and medicine are ways that God works to protect and enhance human life. The Rev. Stephanie Lobdell of Mount Nazarene University says, “When scientists unravel the DNA of a dangerous virus, when doctors work tirelessly to find more effective treatments, when researchers formulate a shot that protects people against infection, we do not raise a self-righteous fist in the face of science claiming, ‘Faith over fear!’ Rather, we rejoice. We rejoice at the life-giving manifestation of divinely ordained vocation. We proclaim thanks be to God, both for God’s provision and for the holy gift of human capacity.”
Christians believe in the collective moral responsibility to care for one another. Being vaccinated for COVID-19 not only protects you personally, but also helps us achieve the herd immunity we need to return to safe, normal life. Consult your doctor before deciding whether to receive the vaccine. If your health and doctor’s recommendation allow it, we encourage you to receive the vaccine when it’s available, for the life-saving benefit of you and your neighbors.
The Rev. Erik Hoeke is pastor at Avery United Methodist Church in North Franklin Township. Dana Stainbrook is a retired registered nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator.