An interesting explainer above on how Pfizer and Moderna are part of a new age of vaccine technology, in which we can send our own bodies the instructions on how to protect themselves:
Researchers working on Covid-19 vaccines have smashed speed records, bringing new vaccines from development to distribution in less than a year. They did this with the help of billions of dollars of unprecedented global investment—but also, in some cases, with a new type of vaccine technology. There are four traditional types of vaccines, and they all require the growing and handling of live pathogens in a lab, a time-consuming process than can add months or years to development. But two new types of vaccines skip that step altogether by moving that work from the lab to our bodies. mRNA vaccines, like the ones from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna; and Adenovirus vaccines, like those from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca; do this by sending genetic instructions directly into our cells, which then produce the harmless protein the body needs to learn to fight Covid-19. Because these proteins are produced from within cells rather than injected from the outside, they may be less likely to provoke adverse reactions in the recipient. The result has been a host of vaccines developed faster than ever. But it’s also ushered us into a new age of vaccine technology, one in which we can send our own bodies the instructions on how to protect themselves. That technology is already being used to drive research on vaccines for HIV and cancer. These new types of vaccines are weapons we developed to fight the coronavirus—but their real impact is just beginning.
(For an update on the new Covid variants, see this FAQ from Joe Carter.)
Christian Discipleship and the COVID-19 Vaccine
For those open to hearing a considered Christian case for these vaccinations, consider reading this piece by Matthew Arbo, C. Ben Mitchell, and Andrew T. Walker:
They address three ethical areas raised by COVID-19 vaccines: (1) safety and efficacy, (2) complicity with evil, and (3) compliance with authority.
Here is their conclusion:
According to the New Testament, faith and obedience to Jesus Christ in discipleship involves dying to self, taking up his cross. The apostle Paul goes so far as to describe it as no longer the person who lives but Christ that lives within them (Gal. 2:20). Disciples love God and love their neighbor, as God commands. Loving another person can involve many things, but it at least involves seeking their good, a good that includes their health and vitality.
It is not possible to properly love a person and to act unnecessarily to jeopardize their health. By this, we mean displaying wanton disregard for the health of others. If by the minimal burden of wearing a mask, we can potentially protect others from grave illness, then it seems we have a moral obligation to wear a mask. The same can be said for COVID-19 vaccinations. If by being vaccinated we can protect others from illness, then we have a corresponding obligation, given our Lord’s command to love neighbors, to be vaccinated. Vaccinations not only protect me, but also protect other vulnerable members of society. At the same time, we acknowledge that the call to love one’s neighbor does not justify—carte blanche—all action taken to lessen transmission or the forfeiture of one’s own conscience.
A disciple may be vaccinated out of love for God and neighbor, but perhaps also because it is wise. Christians are not rash or foolish about their lives. They are instead sober-minded and ready, on the basis of evidence furnished by reality itself, to form judgments on particular courses of action. It seems wise to be vaccinated, because doing so may protect one’s own life and the lives of others.
Being vaccinated likewise demonstrates that we care about the common good. We wish for all to enjoy a whole, joyful life for as long as the Lord provides. Disciples of Jesus do not wish for anyone to be cut off from the fruits and joys of human community and fellowship, but for all to give and receive in grace and hope. Vaccinations assist us in joining together to share in the goods we have in common.
At the same time, we also acknowledge the sincerity of those whose consciences disagree in good faith. Perhaps there are parents who, once a child vaccine is developed and approved, are sincerely fearful that the rushed nature of the vaccine’s development has long-term unknown costs. Despite our own convictions about the rigorous protocols to ensure safety and efficacy, we believe that Christian liberty requires that each person be free to choose whether or not to receive these new vaccines.
Still, blanket appeals to Christian liberty are not sufficient. They require evidentiary substance. The libertarian-minded citizen who reflexively rejects any claim of authority has not adequately met the necessary threshold to refuse vaccination. Those appealing to Christian liberty or conscience have the burden of demonstrating what goods are procured, secured, or respected that surpass the goods associated with vaccination. We are not saying such arguments are impossible to make or possibly worthy to act upon. However, we do believe the goods associated with vaccination outweigh the risks or goods born of refusing vaccination.
Because we believe that concerns about vaccination do not rise to the threshold necessary to justify forgoing it, we believe that it is strongly morally advisable to get vaccinated. However, even if this rises to the level of a moral “ought,” that does not mean we think churches should discipline their members if they refuse to get vaccinated. Nor does it mean that an individual who forgoes the vaccine is necessarily sinning. Vaccination is a salutary act born of Christian love for neighbor and community, not a test of faithfulness.
Christians, pastors, and local churches should approach this conversation with forbearing love. We should refuse the temptation to harshly or condescendingly judge those with whom we have disagreements.
You can read the whole thing here.
On Twitter, Andrew Walker wrote up an important brief thread on vaccination, Christian liberty, and Christian love, which I’ve included below:
Two years ago, I wrote an article on what I call “ethical triage”— ranking moral obligations that differentiate and respect both absolute obligations and prudential wisdom. I proposed the categories of “may” (permissible), “should” (advisable), and “must” (obligatory).
Using these categories, let me suggest that vaccination falls into the advisable category. I think prudence increases, additionally, as one considers herd immunity, increased age, and comorbidities. That I find this advisable is not, however, to shame. Posture and tone matter.
Consideration of the common good is important, but it does not altogether vitiate individual autonomy and moral responsibility. This calls into question the supremacy of “Neighbor Love” (which is valid, of course). That cannot be pitted against conscience. Sorry, it cannot.
(CAVEAT—this implies one making a conscience claim has a conscience properly calibrated and informed by correct information and morally germane principles.)
Saying otherwise introduces a troubling principle of subsuming the individual to the collective, even if for ostensibly good purposes. America has a long tradition of conscientious objection and that should be respected.
What does advisability mean? It means I’m duty-bound to state convictions that I think are accurate and have greater evidentiary and argumentative weight. But I cannot necessarily bind from Scripture those who are not sinning by what Scripture defines as an unambiguous sin.
Much of the moral discourse around vaccines and obligations is concerning. Obligations from a Christian worldview imply binding the conscience to the point of church discipline. I cannot do that concerning vaccination, even if I disagree with counterarguments.
To be clear: I think one should absolutely get vaccinated if they can do so in good conscience. This is what I’ve told my students. I’ve also told them that not getting vaccinated requires accepting the consequences of their actions as moral agents.
Introducing categories of ethical triage within the church is the difference between tearing ourselves apart by heavy-handed condemnation or reflexive dismissal (from both perspectives).
My hope is that we could talk about this without immediately adverting to accusing those who get vaccinated as weak supplicants and those who abstain as unloving conspiracy theorists. Be chill. Be loving.