[[email protected]@180=“So what is a Christian to do with vaccinations? I believe they should vaccinate and vaccinate with confidence.”,
–Justin Smith]NASHVILLE (BP) — Amid controversy about the safety of using vaccines, Christians have found themselves discussing the scientific, public policy and moral implications of immunizations.
Following a measles outbreak in Southern California and discussion of vaccinations by several potential 2016 presidential candidates, Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has published an article by a Christian pediatrician touting the safety and effectiveness of vaccinating children.
Meanwhile, the public policy aspect of vaccination discussions has centered on the question of whether governments should require all children to be vaccinated or allow conscientious objectors to opt out on religious and moral grounds. One homeschool advocacy group has withdrawn its support from a vaccination bill in the Mississippi legislature because lawmakers removed a provision allowing children to be exempt from immunizations based on the beliefs of their parents.
In yet another facet of the discussion, some vaccination opponents have raised concerns that many common vaccines were first developed using cell lines generated from tissues of aborted fetuses.
Writing for the ERLC, Texas pediatrician Justin Smith noted, “In my pediatric practice, questions about vaccines come up frequently. Your Facebook timeline, like mine, is often filled with vocal vaccine skeptics and critics who make us feel like we are in the minority opinion. So what is a Christian to do with vaccinations? I believe they should vaccinate and vaccinate with confidence.”
Smith presented three reasons why he believes Christians should have their children vaccinated, countering the argument that potential side effects of immunization outweigh the benefits:
–Christians should vaccinate because science confirms the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations.
“The basic science of vaccines is sound and proven,” Smith wrote. “They are chemicals that are found in nature. Your child will get more mercury from a tuna fish sandwich, more aluminum from breast milk or formula and more formaldehyde from a pear than they will receive from vaccinations.”
— Christians should vaccinate because we love our neighbors.
“We are our brother’s keeper (Gen 4:9),” Smith wrote. “Choosing not to vaccinate and to hide in the herd of everyone else who does puts others unnecessarily at risk and, as we have seen these past few weeks, does not work. Vaccination is pro-life and pro-neighbor because it serves the public good.”
— Christians should vaccinate because we don’t give in to fear mongering.
Vaccine opponents sometimes exaggerate the potential side effects of shots and “play on our biggest fears as a parent, that we might do something that could harm our children,” Smith wrote. “What they forget to mention is that by not vaccinating you are taking a bigger risk.”
Debates about the scientific advisability of immunizations are not a recent phenomenon. They date back to at least 1721, when early New Englanders discussed whether they should be inoculated against smallpox amid an outbreak in Boston. New England Puritans were among those to debate whether inoculation was permitted by Scripture and medically advisable. Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the most famous Puritan to promote smallpox inoculation, died from side effects of an inoculation in 1758.
Vaccinations public policy
The Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association has not addressed the safety of vaccinations as much as related public policy issues — a component of the discussion not mentioned by the ERLC article. HSLDA believes that “lawmakers should take parental rights and public health into account when crafting laws that deal with immunizations,” according to a statement on the HSLDA website.
HSLDA supported a bill that was being considered by the Mississippi state Senate, which would have “create[d] an exemption to vaccinations of school children based on the beliefs of their parents,” the HSLDA website stated.
But HSLDA withdrew its support when the House Education Committee amended the bill “to remove the language granting an exemption from the vaccinations based on a conscientious objection,” HSLDA senior counsel Dewitt Black told BP in a written statement. “We are now only monitoring the bill’s progress.”
The revised House bill — which seeks to codify Mississippi’s current practice of granting medical waivers to children whose doctors request them — awaits votes by the full House and Senate, USA Today reported.
A similar bill being considered by the Colorado Senate would allow parents to choose whether to have their children immunized, USA Today reported.
The first state law regarding vaccinations was passed in Massachusetts in 1809, according to the HSLDA website. Many states passed compulsory vaccination laws around the turn of the 20th century, when immigration and disease outbreaks both increased. In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that compulsory vaccination laws were constitutional.
A separate concern raised by some vaccination opponents is that many common vaccines are produced using cell lines originally developed from fetuses aborted in the 1960s and 70s.
Among the vaccines prepared using cell lines developed from aborted babies are several rubella vaccines, including versions of the combined measles, mumps, rubella shot; two vaccines against hepatitis A; a chicken pox vaccine; a rabies vaccine; and a smallpox vaccine, according to a 2005 report from the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.
West Virginians for Vaccine Exemption is one group that cites pro-life concerns as part of its opposition to vaccines.
“West Virginians who object to abortion for religious or moral reasons have a right to refuse to inject abortion-related ingredients into their children,” the group stated on its website according to Religion News Service.
However, Southern Baptist bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell said it is not clear that recipients of a vaccine today are morally complicit in abortions that occurred decades ago.
“I admire Christians who are trying to avoid even the appearance of evil,” Mitchell, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Union University, told BP in written comments. “But it is very difficult to establish a clear line of complicity between an abortion 40 years ago and a vaccine administered in 2015. We should certainly be vigilant about resisting the temptation to do good through evil means, but we should nevertheless try to do good. This may be one of those issues where faithful Christians may disagree.”
The Vatican report distinguished cooperating in an immoral action while sharing evil intention and doing so without sharing evil intention. The report also argued that the amount of time to elapse between the original abortions and the receipt of vaccines should be factored into moral deliberations.
“Doctors and fathers of families have a duty to take recourse to alternative vaccines (if they exist), putting pressure on the political authorities and health systems so that other vaccines without moral problems become available,” the report stated. “They should take recourse, if necessary, to the use of conscientious objection with regard to the use of vaccines produced by means of cell lines of aborted human fetal origin.”
The report added that “it is right to abstain from using” vaccines developed from cell lines derived from aborted fetuses “if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health. However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis.”