A new type of vaccine has almost always been met with skepticism and fear. When Edward Jenner inoculated an 8-year-old boy with the newly invented cowpox vaccine against smallpox in 1796, people were imagining that cow heads would grow out of the noses, arms, and legs of recipients.
Fast-forward 220 years, and the new mRNA vaccines to fight COVID have brought skepticism and fear as well. Just like no cow heads would ever grow out of recipients because of the cowpox vaccination, some of the modern-day concerns have been unfounded as well.
First, the mRNA used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines does not integrate into vaccine recipients’ genes and become part of them. Now, mRNAs naturally exist in our cells. They are temporary copies of the permanent genes, and they are used to make proteins (the workforce) in the cells. And mRNAs are inherently short-lived, designed by our creator, so that the cells can respond to changing environments quickly. Once the injected mRNA stimulates the immune response in the body, it is broken down readily by our cells.
Second, the process of vaccine development was fast-tracked, but it did not cut corners to compromise safety. The earlier parts of the vaccine development were able to be fast-tracked because research had already been done to similar viruses so that scientists knew what a good vaccine target would be, and the mRNA platform of vaccines had demonstrated an excellent safety profile in prior clinical trials (for cancer treatments). Time was also saved by starting manufacturing when vaccines were still being tested.
The most important step in clinical trials is the last step: phase-three trials. Pfizer and Moderna used 10 times more volunteers than a typical drug trial in phase-three trials. With government funding support and cooperation of many clinical sites, the two companies were able to employ many more investigators than typical clinical trials, so they could finish the trials in record time. These companies and the government are still following the vaccine rollout by monitoring vaccine recipients for potential side effects. (Read more about this here.)
Third, there is no material derived from aborted fetus in the mRNA vaccines. They are made with chemical processes. The mRNA platform does not use cell lines or other biological materials in its production. The vaccines are almost entirely synthesized directly from chemical compounds. (Read more here.)
Fourth, small lipid particles are used to deliver the mRNAs to our cells, but no microchips are embedded in them. There might be other misinformation out there related to conspiracy theories, but they are not true.
Aside from the unfounded concerns, more importantly, as Christians, particularly Reformed Christians, we have very good reasons to partake in the vaccine efforts.
First, the mRNA vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective. Yes, there have been some severe adverse reactions in the vaccinated, but the numbers have been extremely low among the tens of millions that have taken the vaccines worldwide, and mostly in people with a history of severe allergies. No medical procedure is without any risk, and even wearing a seatbelt can sometimes result in injury or death in a crash. As to mRNA vaccines’ efficacy, 90-95% would be excellent for any vaccine. We have a great reason to celebrate such effective development in record time.
Second, as Reformed Christians, we believe God allows us to use God-given ability to develop treatments and vaccines to overcome diseases. This is our way to love God and participate in God’s redemptive work of the world.
Third, as Christians we are called to love our neighbors. When we take the vaccines, we not only protect ourselves, we also help to build immunity in our communities, so that others are protected as well. By taking the vaccines, volunteering in vaccine trials, or helping out at vaccine distribution sites, we demonstrate our love and care for our communities.
Fourth, Christians should not live in fear but in the trust of our loving Father. We are called to promote trust, not fear, in our lives and in our community. Yes, we need to be wise and cautious, but do not let fear overtake our good sense. Historically, it was the Christians who took care of the ill in the pandemics of plague in the first through fourth centuries. The love and fearlessness of the Christians brought many to the faith in Jesus Christ.
So my fellow Christians, let’s join in the effort of vaccines and become part of God’s solution to the suffering world.
About the Author
Anding Shen is a professor of biology and researcher in immunology and virology at Calvin University. She attends Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.