Vaccines – some thoughts from a specialist

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Recently I’ve had email contact with a brother who I greatly respect but who struggles with the issue of whether it’s right to be vaccinated against Covid, so much so that he loses sleep over it. A major concern for him was reports about vaccines weakening our immune system. He referred me to YouTube and Facebook sites and provided a document by a Dr Johnson.

I know there are also other brothers and sisters for whom this is a big concern, particularly now that the government is mandating people in many areas of employment to be vaccinated. Not being qualified to assess this matter, I emailed Dr John Eikelboom, a Canadian specialist in cardiometabolic health,[i] and member of a sister church in Toronto. With his consent, and in the prayerful hope that it may help allay concerns of those unsure about what, for some, is a significant issue, I publish his response:

Dear Mr Numan,

Thank you for your note.

I have provided a few thoughts below for consideration.

We accept as Christians:

  • Scientific discovery allows us to better understand God’s creation.
  • Governments have responsibility to rule the nation and have God-given authority to do so.
  • We are called to submit to governments (unless of course they direct us in a manner that is contrary to God’s Word).

AND

  • Humans are sinful including, a) scientists who want to be famous, b) drug companies who are profit driven, c) governments who fail to acknowledge that their authority is God given.

The COVID-19 experience:

  • There was great uncertainty in the early stages of the pandemic.
  • Rapidly changing and apparently conflicting government recommendations and regulations (reflecting the rapid advances in science) eroded the confidence of the public in science and governments.
  • The combination of uncertainty and lack of confidence in science and governments prompted many people to seek other sources of information, especially the internet and social media.
  • The many conflicting opinions on the internet and social media further fueled the uncertainty and as a result people no longer know what is true. (This is no surprise because good science and reputable scientists do not reply on the internet to disseminate their findings whereas those with fringe opinions and promoting conspiracies are free to post what they wish on the internet.)
  • People can no longer distinguish between science, politics, and conspiracies.

I think we need to go back to the fundamentals.

The science:

  • There are essentially 3 types of COVID-19 vaccines: mRNA (e.g., Pfizer. Moderna), viral vector (e.g., Astra Zeneca, Johnson and Johnson), and protein subunit (not yet approved):
    • mRNA is the code that is derived from DNA and instructs the cellular machinery to produce protein, in this case the spike protein. mRNA is broken down over a period of a few days and disappears completely (the reason that they are kept at low temperatures is that mRNA is very fragile).   
    • The viral vector vaccines deliver DNA into the nucleus of the cell leading to the production of mRNA which then produces the spike protein.
    • The protein vaccine delivers the spike protein directly into the body (not yet approved).
  • The vaccines do not alter our DNA and do not alter our immune system.
  • The immune system responds to the presence of the spike protein by recognizing that it is foreign and producing an antibody response. This response is the same irrespective of whether the spike protein is produced by the body in response to mRNA or DNA, or whether it is directly introduced by the vaccine (or indeed by the virus itself).
  • The COVID-19 vaccines are remarkably effective. Yes, booster shots are going to be needed but that does not mean that they are ineffective. Children receive repeated doses of DPT vaccine and tetanus vaccines need to be readministered to ensure protection.
  • There is absolutely no evidence that vaccines affect fertility (there are now studies of pregnancy after vaccination and many pregnant women get vaccinated).
  • The vaccines have been very extensively tested. It is reassuring to know that in the history of vaccines, all of the proven serious harms were discovered in the first few months of administration (not years later).
  • The vaccines are not 100% safe – in particular there have been deaths due to the viral vector vaccines and there have been cases of heart inflammation with the mRNA vaccines – but no vaccine is 100% safe.
  • The risk of side effects from vaccines are negligible compared with the risks of COVID-19. (Please note that websites reporting deaths to vaccine are almost always misleading. The CDC does allow the public to report a death, and now that hundreds of millions of patients have received the vaccine it is unsurprising that there have been thousands of deaths in people who have received the vaccine. However this does not mean that the vaccine caused the deaths.)

The politics:

  • In my opinion, governments in Canada and Australia have by and large been exemplary in their efforts to protect people from COVID-19 based on the emerging science. That is not to say that they have not made mistakes or that the lockdowns are not harmful, but I think that their responses, by and large, have tried to follow the science.  
  • Vaccine mandates are already part of life and in this respect the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is nothing new (e.g., we cannot send our children to school without polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, mumps vaccination ….)

What are we to do as Christians?

  • Although by the grace of God Australia has been largely spared from the ravages of COVID-19, it is good to follow the science and the government guidance and to be vaccinated, thereby to avoid the experiences of countries such as the United States, India and Brazil, as well as many other poorer countries.
  • Access reliable sources of information (i.e., shut down our twitter and face book and u-tube feeds and North American Fox News!). I would suggest the Australian Government Department of Health (https://www.health.gov.au/), the US Center for Diseases Control (https://www.cdc.gov/), the National Institutes of Health (https://covid19.nih.gov/), and Health Canada (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html), but there are others of course.
  • Humbly and prayerfully accept that all things are in God’s hands, and that as Christians we are behaving responsibly when we follow the government mandates which in turn are based on the best available science. There will be remaining uncertainties but that is part of our life on this earth and will not be resolved until the last day. 

Some personal reflections:

  • Knowing what COVID-19 has done in my own hospital I cannot help but think that defying vaccine mandates is irresponsible. At the same time, I can understand people living in a country (state) where there had been very little COVID-19 do not feel the same sense of responsibility.
  • At the Hamilton General Hospital and McMaster University we are obliged to be vaccinated: no vaccine = no job. I am thankful for this and was vaccinated in January of 2021 (as soon as I was able to). So far about 95% of hospital staff are vaccinated.
  • I encourage every single eligible patient that I see to get the vaccine at their first available opportunity.
  • As a patient, I would not like to go to a hospital where health care providers were not vaccinated.
  • One of our most respected Intensive Care doctors told me recently about his daughter’s 12th birthday. His “present” for her was a COVID-19 vaccine because now she would finally be eligible for vaccination (the vaccines are approved for 12 and up). When faced on a daily basis for 6 months straight with a disease never before encountered and so many preventable deaths (as he was), one’s perspective on COVID-19 is very different.
  • >95% of patients admitted to our ICU with COVID-19 in the last 3 months were not vaccinated

Dr Johnson’s letter:

I recognize that I have not responded in detail to the letter by Dr Johnson. Although I do not question his sincerity, I regret to say that the letter is so full of inaccuracies and misconceptions that I don’t know where to start. For example, comments that the vaccines “interfere with the immune system”, have “irreversible effects” and are “not effective against the delta variant” sound frightening but are misleading. The suggestion that the vaccines are “self replicating” is frankly absurd, and the claims that vitamin C, D, zinc, ivermectin are effective are either unproven or proven to be untrue. If we allow ourselves to be guided by this sort of “information” then it is no wonder that we cannot sleep at night or want to resign rather than follow government mandates.  

I have found that it is more effective to emphasize truths rather than trying to dispel myths but I fear that many of our brothers and sisters are in the grip of misinformation and cannot break free.

Thus far Dr Eikelboom’s pertinent comments.

Now a few of mine (JN):

Today a couple of people alerted me to a new UK government report (its Week 42 “COVID-19 Vaccine Surveillance Report” by the UK Health Security Agency) which is purported to support the view of Dr Johnson. The report, however, is overwhelmingly in support of vaccinations, saying that, “overall, the benefits of COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any potential risks”. It states, for example, that:

  • vaccines are highly efficacious at preventing symptomatic disease
  • the gov’t focus was on data related to the Delta variant which is currently dominant in the UK
  • After 2 doses, observed vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease with the Delta variant reaches approximately 65 to 70% with AstraZeneca Vaxzevria and 80 to 95% with Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty and Moderna Spikevax
  • Several studies have estimated vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation in older ages, all of which indicate higher levels of protection against hospitalisation with all vaccines against the Alpha variant (7, 8, 9, 10). Effectiveness against hospitalisation of over 90% is also observed with the Delta variant with all 3 vaccines
  • High levels of protection (over 90%) are also seen against mortality with all 3 vaccines and against both the Alpha and Delta variants
  • The rate of hospitalisation within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test increases with age, and is substantially greater in unvaccinated individuals compared to vaccinated individuals.

We all know that we are obliged to heed the government unless what it says is contrary to God’s Word (BCF 36). I’ve seen no evidence that having the vaccine is contrary to God’s Word; so it seems to me that those employed in particular areas or wanting to visit particular places have no alternative but to obey the inevitable legislation.

Moreover, our churches have prayed to the Lord for relief from this pandemic. Since there is irrefutable evidence that the vaccines work to save lives, should we not see the vaccines as an answer to prayer?

Although the Lord has graciously kept us, here in WA, free from COVID, the likelihood of it becoming more prevalent here will increase as the government relaxes border controls.

Let’s not let Satan exploit this potentially divisive issue to sow discord and ill feelings toward one another. Despite differing views on this issue, we should be able to talk about these things as we socialise with one another calmly, patiently, in a brotherly way, without condemning or isolating, at all times reflecting the fruit of the Spirit.

 

[i] Dr. Eikelboom, MBBS, MSc, is Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, McMaster University, and haematologist in the Thrombosis Service, Hamilton General Hospital, Ontario, Canada.