How to talk about vaccines with someone who is Christian, when you aren’t Christian
Christians are followers of Jesus, whom they consider the Christ (i.e., Messiah, anointed one). Christians believe that Jesus, descended from Abraham through Isaac, is the Son of God prophesied in the Hebrew Bible. The life and teachings of Jesus are presented in four canonical gospels (“good news”) and other writings appended to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in the form of a New Testament.
Support for Vaccination Within Christianity
Most Christian denominations have no scriptural or canonical objection to vaccination per se. The major exceptions are those denominations that rely on faith healing, including the First Church of Christ, Scientist (i.e., Christian Science) and several small sects. Numerous vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks have occurred in these communities.
With contagious diseases such as COVID-19, the responsibility of one person to avoid transmitting the virus to another person resonates with the “Am I my brother’s keeper?” aspects of the Cain and Abel story (Genesis 4:9). A decision to be vaccinated is not solely a personal decision, as it changes the likelihood that bystanders (e.g., household members, neighbors) will contract a lethal contagious disease. Christians take this imperative further with loving your neighbor as yourself (James 2:8) and acting kindly to strangers, as did the good Samaritan (Luke 10:33-35).
Vaccine-Related Objections Within Christianity
Christian Scientists contend that disease is an illusion induced by the devil. Individual believers often forego vaccination, and church members have long lobbied governments for religious exemptions from vaccination. Founder Mary Baker Eddy stated in 1913: “Rather than quarrel over vaccination, I recommend, if the law demand, that an individual submit to this process, that he obey the law, and then appeal to the gospel to save him from bad physical results.” A recent statement at the denomination’s website expresses a related sentiment, acknowledging individual discretion.
Several small Christian denominations or churches hold core beliefs that focus on healing through faith alone, with active avoidance of medical care (e.g., Faith Tabernacle, Church of the First Born).
Some vaccine-declining people may cite the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (3:16-17): For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” On the other hand, they may wish to consider Mark (7:18-23) quoting Jesus in saying: “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile…?"
Roman Catholicism and some other Christian denominations express concern over vaccines that are manufactured using cell lines (e.g., MRC5, WI38) with remote links to specific fetuses aborted several decades ago. This is the situation with adenovirus-vector COVID-19 vaccines (e.g., from Janssen or AstraZeneca) that use HEK293 or PER.C6 cell lines. Messenger RNA in vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are chemically synthesized, not grown in cell culture, but their developers used assays at early stages of vaccine formulation to confirm protein configurations, an even more remote involvement with cell lines of fetal origin.
Critically, these abortions were not conducted for the purpose of harvesting the cells that were transformed into these cell lines. This lack of intention is key in breaking a complicity link that could otherwise make vaccination unacceptable. No additional abortions are needed to sustain vaccine manufacture. The cell lines are not the final product, and no human cells are present in the final vaccine formulations. Ethicists at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life and elsewhere have concluded that receiving one of these vaccines bears no complicity or cooperation with the abortion decades ago, with the status of a formal teaching of the Catholic Church.
Further, the ethicists found that parents have a moral obligation to provide for the life and health of their children by means of vaccination. Still, they concluded that alternate vaccines should be used if available. They also recommended that parents and clinicians should speak out against abortion by asking governments and vaccine manufacturers to stop using cell lines that have remote links to aborted fetuses.
Regarding COVID-19 vaccines, Catholic authorities at the Vatican and in the United States have encouraged their faithful to be vaccinated, while noting that there is no Catholic requirement to do so. Pope Francis recorded a video for Catholics across the Americas in 2021 with the Ad Council encouraging COVID-19 vaccination.
Maybe Your Religious Patient’s Vaccine Concerns Don’t Really Involve Religion
As you interact with people who express concerns about vaccination, listen to the words they use. Are they expressing a concern along religious or theological lines? Or are they commenting about safety or matters related to clinical trials or the approval process?
You may wish to ask questions or offer comments related to how contagious diseases spread, how vaccines are tested, or the components used in vaccines. People who decline vaccination may benefit from encouragement not to act as a vector enabling COVID-19 viruses to spread to others. Each unvaccinated person adds to the vulnerability of a household or group.
Additional details and primary literature are cited in: Grabenstein JD. What the world’s religions teach, applied to vaccines and immune globulins. Vaccine. 2013;31(16):2011-2023. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2013.02.026