By Photo Credit: James Gathany Content Providers(s): CDC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Throughout my entire life, My mom would often speak of her childhood experience with measles and whooping cough. These memories remain traumatic for her as she recalls how she almost died from measles, and as a kindergartner, missed three months of school in the process of recovering. Both she and my grandma experienced pertussis, or whooping cough, during my mom’s youth. The trials of coughing to the point of choking left a fearful memory with my mom, and she ensured we had the vaccines needed to avoid unnecessary childhood illnesses.
When I speak with my mom regarding her previous health issues, she expresses the horror of her experiences with these extreme illnesses and the sadness surrounding the time and energy she lost while recovering. By sharing her stories, my mom has been a great influence on me and, hopefully, others on the importance of vaccines to our population. Likewise, as I place my mom’s experience in conversation with science, history and theological thought, I continue to strongly support the inoculation process.
Just as we thought that some of these illnesses were nearly eradicated in our first world culture, they seem to have been reappearing more frequently in our privileged communities. Some have chosen not to vaccinate out of deep fear for their children’s health. Some have decided not to vaccinate due to receiving misinformation. Some believe that it is more dangerous to receive a vaccine rather than the risk of contracting the illness.
The conversations surrounding this are complicated and very passionate. The people who have experienced the struggles with preventable illnesses often stand firm on their pro-vaccination views. Likewise, those who focus their attention on the dangers of vaccines and the compassion in their hearts for their children both care fully about those closest to them.
In the past weeks, I’ve gotten into some thought-stretching interactions with friends regarding the vaccination debate. Through discussions, I began to see a myriad of views present in vaccination conversations. While I may be firmly pro-vaccination, I also must try to understand the other side of the argument even if I don’t agree with it. So I’ve begun to ask myself “How can I be an advocate AND still refrain from shaming those who believe differently?”
By presenting my view on this, I hope to influence others to realize that they do not make decisions in isolation.
As I look at this issue through the lens of scriptures, I am reminded that we are all part of the same body of people, and many of our choices directly and indirectly impact others within our society. First Corinthians 12 reminds us that we are forever connected with all others. When we are part of the Body of Christ, we are compelled to acknowledge our connection with every single other part of the body. We are forced to see that when we choose to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, there is the possibility that both loved one and stranger will be impacted by our choices.
Being someone who does support vaccinations, I believe that when the vaccination option is not chosen it heightens the risk that it will negatively impact the entire body of people. That being said, we are still part of the same body as those who choose not to vaccinate, so removing their humanity and vilifying them creates chaos in the body. As we are in covenant with people with whom we disagree, we have a responsibility not to denigrate those who make different choices than ours. How can we have conversations without shaming the other side?
I posted a pro-vaccination editorial cartoon that my friend Kevin Necessary drew for WCPO.com. This drawing opened my eyes to another parallel conversation: peanut allergies. While peanut allergies and vaccinations are two very different and separate issues as reminded to me by friends, they have one common connection: our choices on both of these issues ripple into the world and can have a very positive or negative impact.
When peanuts enter the Body of Christ (or the entirety of humanity) through someone who loves to eat peanuts, there is still a possibility that another member of the body will touch or consume a small portion of those nuts. In doing so, the allergic individual has the possibility of getting very ill or dying.
If a member of the body of Christ is not vaccinated, there also is a possibility that measles, whooping cough or a number of other illnesses can come into the body. We’ve seen it recently at Disneyland and through the spread of the highly-contagious measles. Concerning both peanuts and vaccination issues, we have to work together to keep these lethal possibilities out of the Body of Christ. Making decisions without thinking of how others will be impacted is neglecting our place in and the constant connection with the rest of the Body of Christ.
The image of this Body of Christ reminds me of conversations I had in college on the principle of utilitarianism which I believe has also influenced my stance on vaccinations. After some online reading, I found this quote by Francis Hutcheson that expresses this concept of utilitarianism:
“In the same manner, the moral evil, or vice, is as the degree of misery, and number of sufferers; so that, that action is best, which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers; and that, worst, which, in like manner, occasions, misery.”
When thinking about what’s best for the greater numbers of people, I reflect upon science and history and see that most vaccinations have been positive for the greater number of people. Thus when we consider the happiness and health of the greater good, we are considering the Body of Christ.
Because of community immunity, or herd immunity, a certain percentage of people in a society need to be vaccinated in order for the larger community to have a strong level of protection . When the vaccination levels falls below that designated percentage, the Body of Christ and our society becomes vulnerable to illnesses. What we often forget is that those with no immune system rely on a system where enough of our society is vaccinated. In reflecting on what’s best for us, we also need to remember those who are too young or have a weak immune system and can’t receive the vaccination. Pooling our communal immunity together protects those who can not be given an inoculation.
I remember the story in Acts 2 on how the church came together, combining their resources to build the church and sacrificing to support one another. In our time, vaccinations can be our way to live out our Acts 2 faith of combining our resources together to strengthen the Body of Christ.
No matter what our views on vaccination, we must continue to remember the constant connection between us and the rest of the Body of Christ. Our decisions should not made in a bubble, and it’s important to weigh the cost of our decisions on how they will impact ourselves, our loved ones and the extended human race.
I highly doubt that I will change my views on vaccination. But being a part of the Body of Christ continues to shape my heart, mind and soul to open myself to those with other viewpoints. In doing so, this transformation has given me more compassion for those who are fearful of vaccinating and urged me to advocate for vaccinations to make sure the Body of Christ is as healthy as it can be.