Science, faith, and vaccines

On Super Tuesday, Maine is going to hold a referendum to vote on whether its new law to remove religious and philosophical exemptions to school vaccine requirements will stand.

(I know we generally avoid politics here, but in this case I’m more interested in the intersection of science and faith rather than anything to do with partisanship or candidates.)

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen several friends on social media (some of whom are in church leadership positions) posting in support of restoring the exemptions, and many approach it along the lines of, “I’m not an anti-vaxer, but I just think people should have the freedom to choose.” Obviously my point of view is limited by newsfeed algorithms and other such things, but it certainly seems to me that among my Christian friends there are many more vocal supporters of keeping religious and philosophical exemptions than not.

Has the topic of vaccines come up in your church or among Christian friends, and if so how do you navigate differences of opinion? (whether on vaccines themselves or on the degree to which the government should mandate them)

1 Like

I support the freedom of choice. I also believe that science and facts trumps personal feelings. I feel
Most of the objections to vaccines are based on the fear of should the government have the right to force people to put chemicals in their bodies, even if it’s for the good. It’s a slippery slope as far as rights go. I think a better approach would be for people to better teach and teach out to parents. I also believe that if a parent chooses not to, and the kid then dies from that particular virus they were not vaccinated for then those parents should face criminal consequences and that kids not vaccinated should not be allowed in public schools or public parks and so on. I think that would result in the most people choosing to allow their kids to receive a vaccine.

Scripturally there is no reason to object to medical help. We see forms of it in the Torah, and we even see Paul mentioning “medical advise” concerning Timothy, water and wine and Luke was known as a doctor of sorts. So it’s definitely not a sin or not having faith to get medical attention including vaccines.

I think that you should have freedom to practice your religion, but that it is perfectly fair if the practice of your religion precludes your participation in certain civil activities because entities that serve the public are also allowed to establish requirements. So, I think public schools should require vaccines. If parents want to live in religious communes and send their kids to religious schools unvaccinated, fine. They would be accepting that following their principles requires self-ostracizing from certain parts of civil society. I think it’s the same principle that says you can’t join the army or the police force as a woman if your religion requires you to wear a dress or cover your face. The army and the police force have uniforms that preclude following that conviction, and that is fine. It’s not civil society’s responsibility to accommodate every religious conviction.

Plus, I don’t think most of the anti-vaxxers have actual religious concerns, they have kooky internet conspiracy fueled beliefs. I don’t think free exercise of religion protections should be extended to whatever “philosophical” nuttiness people can come up with. I don’t think public schools should have to accommodate people’s ignorance if it endangers children. They wouldn’t accommodate your philosophical conviction that you had to beat your kid either or exempt them from learning math. There are certain things the government can say you aren’t free to choose.

4 Likes

We’ve been through this before with Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses parents allowing their children to die and facing prosecution for it. I think the state has a right to protect people, especially underage children, who lack the maturity to make medical decisions.

Nobody in my parish that I know of has objected to vaccinations. The rector today had a few words concerning the Covid-19 virus. And the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of NY will be coming out with a statement soon.

I’m sure that when scientists finally develop a vaccination for covid-19 the usual people will have a hissy-fit and spread false rumors about it.

4 Likes

Yes, for me this trumps parental rights. If you think your child can grow healthily while eating nothing but marshmallows – tough titty, the state is going to force you to violate your beliefs and feed the kid a healthier diet.

Also, the unvaccinated pose a threat to the larger community not just in schools, but as long as they have any contact at all with others.

4 Likes

For me as well. We don’t let parents use their kids as punching bags and there is such a thing as reckless endangerment. The state should protect children from irresponsible care. That said I am generally in favor of allowing an individual to take chances with their own well being if they judge the rewards to be worth the risks. In this country, there is an expectation that parents get to decide what is best for their kids. So I suppose I can wince and bear it if people want to send their unvaccinated kids to their own communal school, even though I think the innocents who cannot really choose for themselves should not have to suffer from their parents recklessness.

2 Likes

The argument I hear is that children are legally required to be educated (while no one’s required to join the military or police force), and most do it through public schools. So if this law stays, some children will be homeschooled simply because their parents don’t want to vaccinate them, which is unfortunate. There’s already quite a vocal contingent of anti-vaxers within the general homeschool community… which makes me think that suspicion of science and suspicion of government tend to go hand in hand.

3 Likes

As long as they home school and wear a front and back biohazard signed tabard when they’re out, fine.

1 Like

I have several friends on my Facebook feed who are antivax. One is in Maine and has posted today that this law would force her to homeschool, and she can’t do that while working full time. She says her children’s doctor recommends they don’t get vaccines because of something genetic (I don’t know any details, and I don’t know if the doctor is a quack). She said she can’t get her kids medical exemptions unless they have anaphylactic reactions, and they don’t, but she claims they did have reactions (again, I don’t know details). I have heard that it is nearly impossible to get a medical exemption, so she may be right about that. At the same time, I know people who claim vaccine injury when it’s not likely vaccine injury.

Most of my antivax friends just don’t trust science or the government, so they don’t believe in vaccinating. They’ll get religious exemptions if their kids go to school, but the ones that go to my church don’t have an actual religious excuse - as in, our church doesn’t teach anything that would cause anyone to think vaccines are sinful. And most at my church are pro-vaccine. The way my friends get a religious exemption while saying they’re not lying is that they claim it’s against their religion to harm their children, and they believe vaccinating would harm their children.

As the old saying goes, the right to swing your fist ends where it meets someone else’s face. Not vaccinating your child doesn’t threaten just your child but people throughout the community. Vaccines are never 100% effective (although very close), and some people are immunocompromised. These vulnerable people are protected by the number of effectively immune people between them and the virus, and if we start taking away those shields it can become a serious problem.

I am hoping that the recent measles outbreak on Somoa will open some eyes. There were 5,700 cases of measles with 83 deaths, most of whom were young children.

4 Likes

In this sense, I don’t really see much difference between a religious exemption and a philosophical exemption – it seems like they’d be for a similar purpose, since a religious belief is also a philosophy, and “philosophical” would cover those who consider themselves nonreligious. There is a part of me that sympathizes with parents who want one for that reason, even if it turns out they’re wrong – but I still don’t think exemptions should be easy to get.

I agree. I think the intention of religious exemption was for actual religious beliefs, such as those of JW’s. It’s being misused in states where there is no philosophical exemption.

1 Like

Looks like Maine voted yes to the new vaccine requirement. My friend is livid.

2 Likes

My experience is that legitimate medical exemptions are easy to get, it is just the fake ones that are difficult as most docs have ethical standards. But not all…
Anyway, it is the unimmunized who are at.the most risk. A friend’s infant recently was in NICU for a month due to pertussis, and continues to recover at home, most likely due to someone they came in contact with who was not immunized.

5 Likes

When we had our first child, we required anyone who wanted to be around him to get the Tdap vaccine, to avoid this exact problem.

4 Likes

A bit of an aside . . .

When my twin little brothers were kids our family something of the reverse situation. My grandfather had lupus and took steroids that strongly tamped down his immune system. Because of this he wasn’t allowed around my little brothers for two months after they got their polio vaccine since there was a chance the weakened viral vaccine might be able to overpower his immune system. I think the polio vaccine has changed quite a bit since then, but my grandfather was really bummed when he couldn’t spend time with his two favorite munchkins.

Yep, we voted to keep the law that removed the exemptions (which won’t go into effect until next year) 73 to 27 percent… so it really wasn’t even close. I’m surprised it was such a landslide just given the small sliver of people I know who have decided to speak out against removing exemptions, and the many signs I saw, at least in my area, that seemed to support that view. It was a good example of how “most vocal” does not mean “majority.” Still, this is one issue where I bet the “older folks” who tend to run conservative (and not use social media as much) would have been more likely to reject exemptions as they’re more likely to have seen the diseases in action, plus every major medical group in the state endorsed the “no” side.

When the “Yes” campaign started (yes to restoring the exemptions), their slogan was “Reject Big Pharma.” Later on they changed it to “Restore Medical Freedom,” but I have to wonder how many people were alienated by that first one. It made me think about how subcultures often use certain phrases or terms that don’t tend to translate well to the mainstream – to those outside the subculture they may sound strange or downright paranoid. I wonder if some of that was going on here. I’m sure there are similar examples of how YEC (or Christian in general) terms don’t translate well when used in more public situations.

2 Likes

The vaccine we older folks got was a live virus vaccine given orally using a weakened polio virus. Sabin developed it as I recall and clashed with Salk who developed the inactivated virus vaccine. It worked great, and had the advantage of being cheap and easy to give, and the virus could provide some passive immunization as it passed to others through stool contamination, but the downside was it could also cause paralytic polio in rare cases, especially if immunocompromised. As polio became more rare, the risk of getting native polio fell to where the risk of the oral live vaccine exceeded the benefit, and in the US, we then changed to the injected inactivated vaccine.

2 Likes

Hello- I’ve been listening to the BioLogos podcast for some time but am new to the forum. My sister was very involved in the Yes on 1 campaign in Maine; the side that wanted to reserve exemptions & lost. In addition to my relationship with her, I’ve been exposed to the vaccine safety-questioning (a fairer label than “anti-vaxx”) community through a lot of holistic health communities where I’ve personally sought help for issues that haven’t been successfully addressed through traditional medicine. There are a lot of legitimate concerns, in my opinion. My husband & I don’t have children but this has become a hotly debated topic between us as we’ve both researched & genuinely looked for the truth. Here are some of the issues I think could be further explored & addressed by proponents of vaccines if they hope to quell these fears:

  • Overall health outcomes versus the effectiveness of a particular vaccine against its disease target
  • Did the studies that supposedly debunked the autism link to vaccines use a true placebo? Or did they use injections that had all the ingredients (heavy metals, etc.) except for the antigen?
  • Has the safety of multiple/combinations of vaccines given together been tested (as they are given in real life)? And are other developed countries, such as those in Europe, giving their children vaccines in the same combinations & with the speed?
    -Are safety studies being done by anyone besides the pharmaceutical companies that are manufacturing them? I think this is important when consumers don’t have choice.

This TedTalk raises the issue of overall health outcomes & the issue of live vs. non-live vaccines. Their research has been ignored by the WHO & the CDC. Why?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_d8PNlXHJ48

I also think it’s important to note that the distrust of these communities is not a distrust of science- it’s a distrust of government & the pharmaceutical industry. Millions of dollars are poured into government from the pharmaceutical industry in the form of lobbying. The pharmaceutical industry caused the opioid crisis & profited from it hugely. Even if all the concerns about vaccinations are invalid, it’s understandable that people have lost trust in the institutions that are supposed to keep us safe.

I wanted to post in order to represent “the other side” somewhat & also with the hope of getting some clarity on this very complex topic! Thank you.

2 Likes

I support the freedom of choice to…

  1. To send your children to a school with the safety which vaccinations provide against the spread of harmful diseases.
  2. To send your children to a private school or to home school them.

I do not support the freedom of choice to endanger other people with the willful ignorance of a blind faith against the reasonable expectation of agreement with the verifiable evidence.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.