Vaccines – safety, ethics and the bigger picture

22 January 2021

As we continue to hurtle through the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccines are on everyone’s minds. Millions of UK people have now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and Christians are asking more questions than ever about the safety and ethics of these vaccines.

These are difficult and contentious issues, particularly for the vast majority of us who aren’t doctors and don’t have postgraduate degrees in biology, theology or ethics.

Below, we’ve provided links to many Christian responses to these questions to help you be as informed as possible. We’ve also summarised the views that are held.

Safety – are the vaccines dangerous?

On the safety of the vaccines, there is little dispute among Christian doctors, scientists and ethicists. Some concerns – e.g. that the vaccines will alter your DNA – are simply false or, at best, misleading. Other fears – e.g. that tests may have been rushed – are more reasonable but, to date, not backed up by evidence.

By and large, Christian medical experts – many of whom have stood against the tide on contentious issues like abortion and euthanasia – agree with the scientific consensus that the vaccines are fundamentally safe and that the risks of Covid-19 are considerably greater than the vaccine.

Read more:

Ethics – are the vaccines moral?

Safety isn’t the only concern. Many Christians have raised questions about the use of cells deriving from an abortion nearly fifty years ago. These are called HEK 293 cells, which have been used in production and/or testing of all of the Covid-19 vaccines being used in the UK.

Use of these cell lines is not new – many previous vaccines and even medications have used these or similar cells in their production or testing. But just because most of us have unthinkingly benefited from these treatments in the past doesn’t mean we should ignore concerns now. Is the coronavirus waking us up to previous and ongoing moral compromises? Or are these treatments morally acceptable?

Christians are more split on this issue. The majority of Christian medics and ethicists lean towards accepting the vaccine. But there are faithful, informed Christians who believe that taking the vaccine wrongly benefits from past evil, participates in evil now, or encourages further evil through more abortion and experimentation. Their views are well worth considering.

Many pixels are being spilt on this issue – below we’ve linked to some of the most helpful articles from either side.

Christian Concern is not advocating for or against taking the vaccine – we believe it’s a matter of individual conscience. We ask that you make your decision with full knowledge of the facts and arguments.

More favourable to vaccines

Mostly neutral

This essay goes into detail on the precise ethical issues being raised:

Less favourable to these vaccines

Freedom of conscience

The question then arises – how do we treat those who object to these vaccines – for whatever reason?

In the Church, the ‘weaker brother’ principle appears to apply (Romans 14). Some Christians believe that vaccines are morally tainted, just as some Christians in the early Church could not in clear conscience eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols.

Christians in favour of the vaccines ought not to trample on the consciences of those who believe that it is morally wrong. It is one thing to seek to persuade – it is another to act in judgement. Christians against the vaccines ought also to be cautious of how they speak – the New Testament likewise warns against passing judgment on secondary matters (Colossians 2:16-23). We need to seek holiness while demonstrating love for one another.

In wider society, the question is different. What might the Government do should a sizeable number of people reject vaccinations – and if, as a result, Covid-19 is not brought under control? Official statements so far have been reasonably firm in rejecting the idea of mandatory vaccines. However, similar strong statements made about not allowing DIY abortions were quickly followed by a U-turn that bypassed parliamentary scrutiny. Such a move would be more difficult in this case – since the current Coronavirus Legislation now in force, for the next two years, was made under PART IV of the 1984 Act, in order for the government to successfully allow mandatory vaccines then that (1984) Act would have to be repealed and another Public Health Act put in its place allowing mandatory vaccines.

At present, restrictions from workplaces only appear to be on those who refuse to be tested. However, some in the media are advocating for vaccine passports to allow for immediate access to higher risk venues and Pimlico Plumbers has said that it will insist on employees being vaccinated – a policy that likely falls foul of employment and equalities laws.

These policies must be a last resort, if even that. Vaccine take-up, whatever we believe about it, appears to be strong, and we can pray that by God’s grace, the virus is subdued and this becomes unnecessary.

The big picture

Back in December, Health Secretary Matt Hancock spoke of the NHS being ready “to inject hope into millions of arms this winter” – referring, of course to the vaccines.

As Christians, we mustn’t be swept into thinking that vaccines are our great hope. Even if we grant that they are wholly safe and moral, they have their limitations. None of the vaccines has a 100% success rate. The successes they do bring are only thanks to God’s brilliant design of our immune systems. They may wear off or be less effective against future strains.

But most of all, they do not deal with our greatest enemy, death. Only Jesus does that. For those who believe in him, his death takes the sting away from ours. And one day he will rid the world entirely of death.

There is a sad irony in seeing cathedrals closed to the public for worship but opened as vaccination centres. Gathered worship of the true God, with mutual encouragement, singing and sacrament is the centre of our Christian experience and fundamental to who God made us to be. Across the UK, much of this is forbidden or voluntarily stopped while we open up buildings for what is functionally becoming our great hope – vaccination.

May we the Church be determined, in every way possible, to declare through our words and actions that our great Hope is Jesus Christ – not scientists, the NHS or vaccines.

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