Vaccines and our holy cause

Posted 11/19/20

After my recent eye exam, the receptionist informed me that she would not get the flu vaccine because she has gotten the flu as a result. I have heard this argument before.

In a recent timely …

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Vaccines and our holy cause

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After my recent eye exam, the receptionist informed me that she would not get the flu vaccine because she has gotten the flu as a result. I have heard this argument before.

In a recent timely guest column, Dr. John Dykers warned against this very mistaken assumption on this very page in the Chatham News + Record. The problem is that people typically wait too long to get the shot and then catch the flu before the vaccine has taken effect in their immune systems. According to Dr. Dykers, “Then you would tell others the shot caused flu when it did not.”

People mistake correlation with causation. My last three optometrists have all been Roman Catholic, but I don’t jump to conclusions and claim that all optometrists must be Catholic or argue that all Catholics raise their children to become optometrists!

There is a false yet persistent claim that certain vaccines cause cognitive impairment in children. While I’m sure there are kids with autism who have been vaccinated, the medical community has proven that vaccines do not produce neurodevelopmental disorders. Causation and correlation are not the same thing.

Last week, we learned about a new COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer. Dr. Anthony Fauci called the results “extraordinary.” Yet, even if the new coronavirus vaccine proves to be as effective among the general population as in Pfizer’s clinical trials, surveys have shown that a significant percentage of the American public will not be vaccinated.

In terms of my eye doctors, I do not want them to decide my lens prescription based on blind faith. I want to look at the data.

Let’s be clear: In order for the most vulnerable and at-risk members of a population to be protected from an infectious disease, the rest of us must be vaccinated. The American public needs to be on the same page. Yet, myths about vaccinations persist. And people do not comply.

Like Dr. Dykers, I want to convince so-called “anti-vaxxers” that the proof of vaccinations is in the science — not in anecdotal evidence or limited personal experience. To the chorus of physicians and public health officials, I add my voice as a theologian.

I think of people with a higher risk of serious symptoms from COVID-19 in terms of an ancient parable. The punchline is that, whatever people do for “the least of these” in their nation, they do for God as well (Matthew 25:31-40). According to Jesus, sick people are among those we are called to help.

The wisdom and genius of many religions and worldviews is that, by envisioning a Higher Power who so loves the world, we are motivated to care for the welfare of our fellow creatures. Because we understand that each life is part of the fabric of creation, we make ethical judgments not merely about what is advantageous for an individual or small group but what is most life-giving for the common good. That is a holy cause.

Causation and correlation are not the same thing. This mistake is often ridiculous. For instance, I’ve known exactly three white guys named Marcus and all of them have been Lutheran pastors. Let’s not jump to conclusions …

And let’s not make deadly misunderstandings about vaccines.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.


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