Vaccination, a spiritual battlefield
Updated: Jan 17
Over the months I have become a master practitioner in assembling the little cardboard box, the container chosen to safely convey my swab sample by Royal Mail each Wednesday. This is one of the skills I have developed as a result of being one of the 24,000 volunteers from the UK, Brazil and South Africa involved in the phase 3 trial of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca covid-19 vaccine. We all feel very proud of the achievement of this dedicated team. Certainly I was impressed by the sheer professionalism of the staff at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, gained in part through their experience in cholera research. They are overseeing the trial in this part of the world. However, the School has now moved on so that I now go for my regular check-up to Aintree University Hospital and to receive my supply of test kits. The trial, as always, is double-blinded. The participants are either injected with the vaccine for covid-19 or the vaccine for meningitis. The fifty-fifty allocation is on a random basis and neither we nor those injecting us know which group we are in. I must say I have been surprised by people’s reactions when I tell them I am a test volunteer, not least to thank me for my bravery! I then hasten to inform them that at no point have I ever felt even slightly at risk, except when negotiating my way into the crowded LSTM car park. For me it was a no-brainer to apply to become a trial participant. For some months now I have been praying for those seeking to develop a vaccine against this vicious virus – and so it inevitably follows that in a very small way I should become a part of God’s response to my prayer. Praying is always a call to action – and not just God's’. However, what was truly alarming were those people, not many, who explained to me how vaccination could do terrible harm. Clearly they have not read Bill Bryson’s excellent book, the Body – a guide for occupants, given to me by my friend Alan, a GP, concerned for my total lack of medical knowledge He had no idea that I had just embarked on the Oxford trial. Towards the end of the book Bryson explains how “somewhere between 1900 and 1912 a random patient with a random disease, consulting a doctor chosen at random, had for the first time in history a better than fifty-fifty chance of profiting from the encounter.” (page 358) He goes onto explain that “the more or less universal consensus among historians and academics was that medical science somehow turned a corner when it entered the twentieth century, and just kept getting better and better as the century progressed.” We have much to be grateful for for the scientific method being applied to medicine, increasingly so as explained in this morning’s Economist, how this pandemic has forced a “digital surge in health care.” The leader writer explains how “the pandemic (has) helped show what is possible, partly because it got people to put aside their caution.” However, for Bryson, if there is one candidate for the most important advance in health-care it has to be vaccination. He quotes the British Nobel laureate Max Perutz who is in no doubt that vaccinations may have saved more lives in the twentieth century than antibiotics. And yet, as we are on the threshold of getting on top of covid-19 through mass vaccinations, there are those who would undermine this programme by actively campaigning against the vaccine. In fact, this anti-vax movement is considered to be one of the top ten global health threats by the World Health Organization. We’re not talking about an understandable hesitancy of letting others try it first and see what happens. We’re talking about questioning the very basis of the scientific method. Here we enter the crazy world of conspiracy theorists. How anyone could sensibly believe that the covid vaccination will result in people being implanted with a microchip that will be used to track them by Microsoft. Even worse there are those who would maliciously seek to sow doubt regarding the safety of vaccination, such as from Russian BOT factories, to be then amplified by social media. Truly wicked. I recall the words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10). At the end of the day we have to rely on scientists to check the work of those scientists working to create a covid vaccine. I certainly haven’t the knowledge to check it out for myself, however many You-Tube clips you may send me. Hence the importance of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, their diligence and transparency now fully endorsed by Dr Anthony Fauci. However, such is the importance of the covid vaccine that we find ourselves on a spiritual battlefield, so much is at stake if we are to achieve herd immunity. And here as Christians we are called to support the scientific method, an approach to knowledge birthed in the culture of the Bible, based on the understanding how God created the universe and ordained the laws of nature to mirror his consistency and faithfulness. It is Jesus who speaks God’s purpose for us wayward human beings: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). As ever God does not abandon us. The very opposite as he responds to our cry for help by choosing to work even through us as we use our God-given gifts to bless each other.