Is that the Question?
For many, considering whether or not to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines is a non-issue, nor even point of discussion, let alone debate. “Of course!” would be the vehement reply if asked, followed closely by the quip and query, “It’s the only logical thing to do in a pandemic. Why wouldn’t you?” While this sort of response may illustrate the prevailing Canadian sentiment– and would certainly represent the attitude which our governmental authorities would triumphantly promote – it’s not everyone’s conviction. A significant proportion of our society is uneasy about the COVID vaccines: some are unsure about their need for immunization, and hesitant about the unknown risks of these novel vaccines; some are philosophically opposed to the use of vaccines because of their association with human cell lines derived from aborted preborn babies years ago; others object in principle to the vaccination requirements, and are sounding the alarm as to what a vaccine mandate will do to our hard-won societal freedoms; while others imminently face the dire prospect of losing those freedoms, as well as their very livelihoods, unless they submit to a procedure to which they conscientiously object. So, the question as to whether or not to proceed with a COVID vaccine is far from a non-issue, and well-deserving of some discussion and prayerful reflection.
While I intend to discuss some of these concerns and provide some general recommendations regarding vaccination, the primary ambition of this essay is to point to a more fundamental question than that of being vaxxed or unvaxxed – and that is, are we in right relationship with God? By comparing and contrasting the COVID narrative with the gospel of Christ, my hope is to give insight as to the divisive nature of these times, and underscore that regardless of our vaccination status, we prioritize our relationship with Jesus, and make Him the object of our lives.
Times of duress tend to bring out our truest colours, and can betray our most deeply held beliefs. When we’re up against it and stretched to the end of our tether, what we really believe to be true comes to the surface. No longer can we so easily hide behind deceptive masks of magnanimity and equanimity. If we sincerely believe that there is a personal God who cares for our deepest needs and even knows the number of hairs on our heads, working all things providentially for good, we will respond to crisis on our knees, straining forward to hear His voice and follow His lead. If on the other hand, we think deep down that that’s a bunch of nonsense, then when disaster strikes, we won’t turn to God, but rather will set our beliefs on any number of things, including whatever notion the media decides to whip up into a frothy frenzy. As G.K Chesterton once said, “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”
The present pandemic has proven to be a most remarkable case in point. There has occurred a separating out of earnest followers of Christ from more nominal believers and those who reject the Lord. It’s been a refining time for the church, and quite painful to witness. There have been raw parishioner rifts develop, ugly leadership disunions and disintegration, as well as an unfortunate exodus from some living churches and emptying out and closure of some dead ones. The current crisis has marked a time of encouraging church growth as well, with scores of new young believers getting baptized and fired up for Kingdom work. This cleaving and reworking within the church is not occurring because of the spread of contagion; the Corona virus was merely the spark that set the ball in motion. At the center of the COVID crisis is a worldview conflict, and it is this conflict that has birthed the contentious vaccine mandate and effectively divided the church, as well as our country, culture, workplaces, social circles, and even families.
The COVID narrative, in which the contagion concern is paramount, represents a certain worldview, and sharply contrasts with the gospel of Christ. The starting point of this narrative is the virus, sitting there smug and sovereign, all covered in those royal purple antenna-like spike proteins. Although the cartoon images resemble more of a dog’s throw toy, or some morphed version of a vile ‘60s bathing cap, it is this virus which is considered before all things and holding all things together. In brief, the COVID-19 virus has become ultimatized. From the first thoughts of the morning to the last considerations at night, concerns of the viral spread reign supreme.
This one-dimensional myopic view of the world has wrought immeasurable havoc on all aspects of our society: from worship logistics, communication modalities, travel plans, educational methods, and workplace culture to grocery store check-out flow, entertainment options, fitness opportunities, and even elevator etiquette. Media, in all of its forms, has been hijacked by fear and completely monopolized by the virus. It’s all we hear about. This incessant and frenzied moment-by-moment reporting of case numbers and pandemic responses have garnered worldwide undivided attention. The audience is listening, and is shivering in their boots. As a result, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (or SARS-CoV-2 for short) has had a severe acute disordering effect on people’s perception of reality, understanding of knowledge, and moral compass. Christians, too, are not immune to this sensory onslaught, and many have also fallen prey to this distorted way of thinking. This is reprehensible, because as important as this virus may be, it is not all-important. Only God is ultimate. That’s His place, and it is Him we should primarily fear and in His promises that we should first and foremost cling to. So, before considering whether or not to receive the vaccine, it’s critical that we place COVID into a greater view of life – a biblical view – and consider the pandemic in the context of the gospel.
When God gets dethroned and considered either irrelevant or subjected to some other – in this case the Corona virus – then the view of man quickly follows. If God is removed from His rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords, so, too, is our image-of-God identity. In this way, unbridled acceptance of the COVID narrative leads to the abandonment of our divine imprint. As a result, human beings are no longer considered “made a little lower than the angels; crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5), but rather reduced to that of viral carriers and a threat to the survival of others. It should be no surprise, then, that the long-held and enshrined rights to voluntary informed consent and bodily integrity have been so nonchalantly discarded in favour of the vaccine mandate. If we are but viral carriers and if the vaccine is our hope and salvation, then why not decree immunizations? “If you don’t want to get with the program, then get COVID and die!” I have sadly heard shrieked out at vaccine mandate protesters. And there is a certain logic to it, as well, because if God is out of the equation, then human rights don’t compute. It’s the holy God of Scripture and our privileged relationship to Him as image bearers that provides the only foundation for human dignity and our assumed inalienable rights and freedoms. Secular humanists can wave their arms in defense of those rights till the proverbial cows come home, but in the end will have nothing more than subjective human constructions on which to base their arguments. They may even point to the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights or quote from the Nuremburg Code, which in no uncertain terms uphold our fundamental rights to voluntarily choose to receive medical intervention or not, but they can’t give reason as to why those critically important documents are so critically important. Human beings are precious and our lives are sacred because God says so. It’s that simple. And it’s that essential that we turn our thoughts to Him, our holy Creator, in repentance and obedience.
In the same fashion, it should be no surprise that the pandemic has provided an unparalleled forward momentum for the abortion agenda. If God is not considered sovereign, and human life is not held sacred, then it’s open season on the preborn. In keeping with the ascribed words of Winston Churchill to “never let a good crisis go to waste,” the Liberal Government of Canada decreed during the lockdowns that abortion be considered an essential service. So, as the world mandated quarantines, travel restrictions, family and friend separation, church closures, and isolation of the healthy, access to abortion remained unhindered. While surgeries for hips and knees where cancelled and non-emergent interventions were put on hold, including some open-heart procedures, the abortion slate remained full and the killing of unborn children proceeded at full tilt. To further facilitate access to abortion during the early phase of the pandemic, the government approved the use of the controversial drug, Mifegymiso, a do-it-yourself abortifacient. This combination pill of Mifepristone and Misoprostol effectively interrupts the action of progesterone and causes uterine contraction, cervical dilatation, and endometrial shedding, terminating the pregnancy. To make things even easier for both physicians and patients, alike, the government issued approval which made this drug available by simple telephone consultation. That means that abortion has become as easy to do in Canada as making a phone call from home, an all-time low for guarding the sanctity of life.
Sadly, both conventional and some novel vaccine developments have involved the use of human cell lines derived from aborted preborn babies, which raises some legitimate ethical concerns, as well. The Astra Zeneca and Janssen vaccines made use of these cell lines during their production and testing process, and the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna m-RNA vaccines may have made use of them during the testing process. Although the human cell lines in question are historical lineages, derived from abortions dating back to 1962 (and not performed for the purpose of vaccine production), this legacy is shameful. Based on this historical relationship, some people refuse to receive the COVID vaccine on the ethical grounds of sanctity of life. While this stance is understandable and should be respected, it’s important to realize that this ethical high ground is but nuanced fine print next to the unashamed slaughter of the preborn practiced in Canada, not to mention the marked advancement of medical-assisted suicide in the elderly. We need to get behind lobbying for ethical vaccine development, but until we achieve laws in this land to protect the unborn and safeguard our vulnerable populations, we will be desperately losing the immense battle for life. So, whether or not we decide to receive immunization for COVID, it’s critical that we, as the body of Christ, support pro-life and anti-euthanasia work at every opportunity, and join these efforts to influence government policy as it pertains to the sanctity of human life.
According to the COVID narrative, the explanation for our present problems are not the fall of man and the entrance of sin into the world, but related to the lack of population control, and in particular, to the number of unvaccinated hold-outs. Rather than recognizing that the world is “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” (Rom. 8:22) with mankind broken by sin, wounding, bondage, evil oppression, and “separated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18), those that hold to the COVID narrative play the blame game. They reject the apostle Paul’s assertion that “all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and point to the vaccine-hesitant as the trouble. “It’s all their fault that our hospitals are filling up again and there’s increased cases of the latest variant!” they decry. Although asymptomatic unvaccinated people have never been proven to be more infectious or transmit more disease than vaccinated individuals, this demonization of the unvaccinated is rife in our society.
This has ushered in an unprecedented degree of vaccine coercion, not just from the government and medical authorities, as one might expect, but in work settings, leisure outlets, social networks, and between church and family members. And as the case numbers rise, so do these pressures. So, we shouldn’t be surprised with the mounting restrictions on freedoms and the growing number of vaccine incentives and mandates. If two doses good and no doses bad, then it follows that the unvaccinated are a threat to society and should be brought into submission. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t how the spread of the virus works, nor how the vaccine protects. The Corona virus that is producing this present plague doesn’t just go from unvaccinated person to innocent bystander. It’s not quite that simple. Rather, the virus can go from any one of us to any other one, including from vaccinated individuals. Contrary to their initial marketing pitches, the available COVID vaccines won’t prevent viral transmission. Although the amount of virus transmitted may vary, a double-vaxxed model citizen can still contract and shed the virus. This is why vaccinated folks are still encouraged to mask and social distance. In brief, shed happens!
In addition to this human-to-human transmission, there’s another reason why we’ll never achieve so-called herd immunity to eliminate spread of disease with mass vaccination: it’s because of all those herds. As it turns out, there’s an animal reservoir for COVID-19. Studies indicate that both wild and domestic animal species – including white-tailed deer, rabbits, bats, ferrets, raccoons, macaques, cats, and hamsters – are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection, and can transmit the virus to each other, as well as to humans. So, even if every last one of us on the planet got fully vaccinated, the virus would still live on and potentially reinfect us again at will, ad infinitum, until He comes again. So, we need to face the music; COVID-19 is here to stay. We’re going to have to keep dancing to viral tune (personal hygiene are my favored steps). On a friendlier note, COVID-19 will likely become increasingly less virulent as time goes by. Due to viral escape and antigen drift, successive mutations generally increase communicability, but reduce lethality. So, our dread Corona virus will likely come off the most unwanted list, and become just one more respiratory virus we encounter during the annual flu season. Get your shot to protect yourself, by all means, particularly if you’re at higher risk, but let’s not demonize our unvaccinated brothers and sisters. After all, we’re all in this together, the animals, too.
Even though vaccination does not annul transmission of the COVID-19 virus, it doesn’t mean that this approach to infection control is without merit. A lengthy litany of serious illnesses that have long-plagued mankind – from smallpox and tetanus to polio and pertussis – are now largely preventable because of our contemporary vaccination protocols. In fact, the positive impact of vaccination on the health of the world’s population is hard to exaggerate. With the exception of improvements in water supply and sanitation, no other intervention, not even antibiotic development, has had a greater reduction on mortality and allowed for greater global human flourishing. Unquestionably, vaccines represent the single most cost-effective life-saving innovation in all medical history. This is why health authorities around the globe chose this strategy early on in the pandemic as their official medical intervention for quelling its spread. Results from large COVID vaccine registries have supported this approach. They have clearly demonstrated that the available COVID vaccines protect from severe pneumonia, hospitalizations, and death. Even though case numbers are climbing again with each successive wave, the death rate is the lowest it’s been since the initial lockdown.
For this reason, I recommend vaccination for my older patients (particularly those over 70 years), and those with lung disease, or who are immunocompromised, as well as those with vascular risk factors, such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. These folks will probably do poorly with COVID pneumonia and are most likely to benefit from immunization protection. Recommending vaccination for select patients, rather than the Government’s blanket approach for all, is better medicine, and lines up well with the Great Barrington Declaration, which calls for focussed protection of higher-risk populations. As for younger people without co-morbidities (particularly those under 35 years), whose risk of serious illness from COVID infection is negligible, the benefit of vaccination is questionable, and certainly shouldn’t be mandated. For this latter group, the decision to be vaccinated with one of the COVID vaccines comes down to issues of principle weighed against the practical implications of not being vaccinated in an increasingly vaccine-necessary society.
The frustrating aspect of the vaccine roll-out is that those who hold to the COVID narrative over-inflate vaccine value, extending their benefits beyond the evidence, the principles of infectious disease, and even common sense. According to their view, vaccination is the only treatment, the infallible treatment, and the absolutely obligatory treatment. As per their mantra, salvation is found by no other means than through vaccination alone. This is why other forms of medical interventions have been downplayed and suppressed over the course of the pandemic. The only way vaccine development and deployment could occur at the warp speed it did, was to make use of Emergency Measures, which necessitated that no other potentially viable treatments were available. So, governments around the world, including our own, closed their eyes to other potential options to help mitigate serious illness, such as corticosteroids, the hydroxychloroquine and zinc combo, ivermectin, vitamin D or N-acetylcysteine. In so doing, medical health authorities have stubbornly pushed on forward down the mass vaccination pathway, and remained blind to counter claims and evidences, all the while censoring voices of dissent, and threatening physicians who raise valid concerns. It’s a disturbing response, and goes against the very pillars of healthy scientific inquiry and medical innovation, and discredits the authority of healthcare regimes.
As important as the COVID vaccines have been shown to be, they have limitations and aren’t without risk. Unanticipated complications surfaced on the very first “V-Day” of vaccine roll-out back in mid-December 2020 with increased cases of anaphylaxis, occurring more frequently than with conventional vaccines. Since that time, vaccine registries have documented several other concerns with the COVID vaccines, including increased rates of lymphadenopathy, herpes zoster infection, appendicitis, and Bell’s palsy. The newly-recognized Vaccine-induced thrombocytopenia (VITT), which can produce a fatal blood clotting storm in the body, has become yet another sorry product of our contemporary “Next-Gen-Vaccine” era. And more recently, there has been an alarming occurrence of myocarditis, seen predominately in otherwise young and healthy men within the first two weeks of receiving immunization. While this sort of heart inflammation typically runs a benign course, it’s not without potential risk of serious events, nor long-term sequalae. In fact, if there was ever a time to harbour some level of vaccine hesitancy, now would be that time. According to the United States vaccine injury database, over 650,000 people in the US have experienced significant side effects from the COVID vaccines, and there have been nearly 14,000 attributable deaths occurring post-immunization. Furthermore and in addition to the failure to prevent viral transmission, vaccine effectiveness is considerably lower against the Delta variant and it appears that protection may quickly wane over time. Disappointingly, the durability of vaccine protection appears to be rather short-lived – significantly shorter than natural immunity – possibly only lasting five or six months after the double whammy before yet another booster shot will be needed, and then perhaps another, and another, and so on. So, despite the COVID narrative, vaccines won’t save us. As Christians, therefore, we must hold fast to the gospel of Christ, and understand, in no uncertain terms, that although vaccines may be of some value, our ultimate remedy is found in Christ alone and His salvific work on the cross. Vaccine or no vaccine, God is at work, and He is our real hope.
According to the COVID narrative, our primary goal is survival at all costs. This general acceptance of secular medicine’s reductionistic view of the human being is one of the most disturbing elements of the pandemic. Rather than considering the human person in scriptural terms, as a complex, multi-faceted creature “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), we have been reduced to mere viral targets and potential viral spreaders, or even super spreaders. The seemingly singular attention focussed by governing authorities on containing the COVID-19 contagion – at all costs – has raised our biological survival to the lofty plain of end-all-and-be-all. It’s as if our ability to simply survive – even at the expense of meaning or purpose – has ironically become the sole end to life. Rather than living sanctified lives, set apart from worldly ways, to co-labour with the Holy Spirit in the ministry of reconciliation, we are living separated lives, set apart from each other, restricted in our movements, forbidden from gathering or worshiping together, or ministering to each other, our facial expressions masked, our young and healthy quarantined, and our elderly abandoned to the point of neglect.
Surely there is more to life than base biotic survival, and more to living than maintenance of our respiratory cycle? The collateral damage from this disease-avoidance doctrine has resulted in unfathomable suffering – physical and existential – arguably worse than wrought by the Corona virus itself, threatening “life which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:19). The list of societal damages is a ponderous one and includes delays in diagnosis and treatment of non-COVID illnesses, the catastrophic wave of bankruptcies and foreclosures alongside sky-rocketing unemployment rates, burgeoning mental illness numbers and suicide rates, family upheaval and substance abuse, disrupted and lost educational opportunities, as well as the criminalization of normal human behavior, such as family gatherings or pastoral visitation. All this is coupled with the immeasurable existential suffering that each of us have experienced at one level or another, isolated from family, friends and faith support. If we were to ask the WWJD? question, it wouldn’t be to live this way. Jesus came “so we might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
As a medical practitioner on the front lines of this crisis, I am keenly aware of the challenges posed by the pandemic. I am directly involved in the care of critically-ill COVID patients, many of whom have died from the virus’s inflammatory storm. It’s been a stressful and heartbreaking time to practice medicine. Nonetheless, it doesn’t bother me to hear that churches are meeting, and I don’t feel that parishioners undervalue me or my efforts. What disturbs me deeply is to see isolated patients bereft of any supports in their lives, including church supports. Fear, loneliness, and hopelessness are widespread. There has never been a greater need for the church of Christ to be the church of Christ. And we can’t be the church if we can’t even meet. Church closure gives attention to the issue of jurisdiction. There are spheres of sovereignty that need to be respected – the government has one, as does the family, and the church — with God’s sovereignty reigning over them all. Pandemic or no pandemic, the state crosses the line when I am not allowed to have my family at my dinner table, visit my dying sister, or take part in corporate prayer, communion, and worship. This is just not acceptable. The Christian life is not lived out in isolation. As C.S. Lewis said, “Let the doctor tell me I shall die unless I do so-and-so, but whether life is worth having on those terms is no more a question for him than any other man… on just the same ground I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in.” What should’ve remained as well-intended health recommendations, similar to those of the American Center of Disease Control, have become in our country arbitrary legal mandates, restricting and removing our hard-won inalienable rights and freedoms. Since freedoms not defended are soon lost, we need to be prepared to do some defending. With this global reset in motion, there is not time to lose, as Made-in-Canada tyrannies are already jostling for position. As Isaiah warned, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isa. 7:9).
Lastly, according to the COVID narrative, all of the problems of the pandemic will somehow disappear if (and only if) we all simply get vaccinated. Like waking up from a bad dream, normalcy is promised to return to us once again after the whole population is immunized against COVID-19. It’s a dangling carrot that tantalizes us all: return of the music festivals, live theatre events, unrestricted family gatherings, indoor children’s birthday parties, youth group retreats, choir practice and carol singing, in-person Bible study, spectator sports, carnivals, fairs… it’s the life we’ve all been longing for these long months. It’s hard to resist, and can easily distract from God’s promised “new Heaven and new earth” (Rev. 21:1), and from “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). And then there’s the rub of the vaccine. Although the lockdowns, masking mandates, social distancing requirements, and mounting restrictions on gatherings and worship have raised emotions high and caused strife aplenty, the vaccination mandate takes the cake for conflict. Explicit or implied, the prospect of mandating the COVID vaccine has polarized the nation. So much so that such a directive portends to create two parallel societies in our country: one, double or triple or double-double vaxxed, as the case may be, with QR code in hand, and the other unvaccinated. The former would be bestowed whichever freedoms of society the medical experts concede to, while the latter would be denied those freedoms. With taunts of “Double vax to Dine” and “No Jab, No Job” ringing in their ears, the unvaccinated would lose the right to make a living, and be banished to nothing less than social exile. What kind of paradise would this really be?
The COVID-19 pandemic is more than a biological insult on humanity. Spiritual forces are at work, and in particular, the spirit of fear. It is this fear that has allowed the pandemic response to spiral so out of control. The devil is having a heyday, and we must recognize this danger. George Washington wisely said, “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” As a Christian community, bolstered by our freedom in Christ, we need to join together in fervent prayer against this societal fear. Going forward, it’s critical that we view the events of the day through the lens of Scripture and have the gospel message galvanized in our minds, rather than falling prey to the COVID narrative. As the apostle Paul warns, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8).
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