The second wave of the Pandemic has been particularly harsh. The enormity and the suddenness of the crisis have fragmented our lives disastrously. Everyone has lost something, of course, some more than others.

COVID-19 and its virulent mutants continue to wreak havoc. Back-to-back lockdowns and COVID appropriate behaviour are barely enough to beat the virus. Now, vaccinations are the best way forward to achieve the required herd immunity.

The Vaccination Drive

Initially, vaccines were administered only to the priority population. Now, free vaccinations are made available to everyone. I had my first dose in early May. Recently, I got my second dose after an anxious wait for 6 weeks.

To date, about 260 million people have been vaccinated in India. Agreed, a lot remains to be done. However, India’s COVID-19 vaccination is easily the most extensive and quickest yet.

The reality of Vaccine Hesitancy

At first, I assumed vaccination was a normal thing to do. But, strangely, a few of my close friends stayed away from taking the vaccine (sadly, they continue to be adamant). To my shock and surprise, I hear vaccine hesitancy is the biggest challenge for the vaccination drive.

WHO defines vaccine hesitancy as a “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccine services”. More vaccinations will definitely expedite our return to normalcy. But, unfortunately, vaccine hesitancy is still rampant.

Religious Attitudes influence Vaccine Hesitancy too!

Vaccine hesitancy is influenced by several psycho-social and cultural factors. However, it’s not just the distrust of science and/or socio-cultural attitudes. Strangely, religious attitudes also contribute to vaccine hesitancy too.

Some Christians continue to resist vaccinations. Divine healing is highly valued as a reward for fervent faith. In contrast, seeking medical intervention is seen as a descent into the realms of unbelief. Unfortunately, many have internalized these attitudes.

Further, a few are only too eager to read the Bible and see everything through the prism of ‘end-time theology. For example, the prophetic phrase “the mark of the beast” is read as a reference to the worldwide vaccination program.

Bad theology continues to spawn misinformation and misgivings about Vaccines. Can such theological (mis) understanding be allowed to hold Public health to ransom? Vaccine hesitancy is profoundly wrong for myriad reasons.

The Vaccine as God’s gift for staying safe

Bible is pro-health and encourages us to take care of our bodies. Our bodies are the creation of God. In fact, for the believer, it is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19 – 20)

The Bible does refer to Physicians about a dozen times. For example, Apostle Paul refers to Luke, the author of Acts and the Gospel of Luke, as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14).

Moreover, many verses speak of using medical treatments – bandages (Isaiah 1;6; Luke 10:34), leaves (Ezekiel 47:12), wine (1 Timothy 5:23), balm of Gilead (Jeremiah 8:22). In fact, medical treatments are viewed favourably.

Scripture nowhere condemns seeking doctors and using “earthly” remedies. Besides, God has created us as intelligent beings to create medicines and learn how to repair our bodies. Therefore, it is unreasonable to dismiss the vaccine.

I wonder why we find it difficult to accept vaccines as God’s gift to us, a means through which God brings healing and recovery?

Take the Jab. Love your Neighbour.

We can’t further afford to lose precious lives due to gross neglect. We have already lost many frontline workers – (at least 1000 doctors, and I don’t know how many nurses, paramedics, and caregivers). Is this all for nothing?

Choosing not to be vaccinated can have serious implications. Worse, such attitudes add a profound risk to our neighbourhoods. How can we be dutiful citizens if we are far from our responsibility as citizens?

Despite questions on the percentage of efficacy, I can only plead that we act with a sense of unified urgency. There is an alarming prospect of Corona returning in waves. If the second wave was worse, the third might turn out to be cruel.

It is worth keeping in mind that we are called to love our neighbour. We are a “called out” community. Taking the vaccine, then, is an exercise of Christian life, faith and witness!

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.