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Are the vaccines safe? Answers to common questions and a prayer for knowledge and discernment

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Are the vaccines safe?
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NOTE: In response to my recent article on ethical issues related to the COVID-19 vaccines, many readers asked medical and practical questions about them. I am not a medical doctor and am not offering medical advice in what follows. But I hope the research I curate in today’s article is helpful as you consult with your physician and make your own decisions regarding the vaccine.

We learned this morning that French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing symptoms and will isolate himself for seven days. He joins a host of world leaders who have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. 

Americans are experiencing more coronavirus deaths than at any prior point in the pandemic. At the same time, the vaccines that have been authorized for use raise a host of ethical and practical issues. 

In a recent article, I explored the question of abortion related to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. I am convinced that life begins at conception and abortion is wrong. (For more, see my paper, “What does the Bible say about abortion?“) However, the consensus of medical researchers and evangelical ethicists is that neither vaccine contains material obtained from aborted fetuses. 

While both utilized cells from the HEK293T fetal cell line in the testing process, we cannot know if this line originated in the 1970s with an aborted fetus or a miscarriage, since the records have been lost. Evangelical ethicists note that even in the worst-case scenario, using this line (which no longer includes these original cells) does not endorse abortion any more than the apostles endorsed the Roman government by using roads it built to spread the gospel. 

For today, let’s discuss several practical questions you may be asking as you consult with your physician and decide whether to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available to you. Given the size and scope of this issue, I will offer brief answers to the following questions along with links to articles written by professionals in the field. 

Are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines safe? 

Two health care workers at an Alaska hospital developed concerning reactions just minutes after receiving Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine this week. One was back to normal within an hour; the other was hospitalized and is set to be released today. The hospital said both workers did not want their experiences to have a negative impact on others lining up for the vaccine. Officials emphasized the requirement that recipients remain in place for fifteen minutes after getting the vaccine, a protocol which ensured that the women were quickly treated. 

A physician named Kevin Pham writes: “I, for one, eagerly await the chance to immunize myself—to both protect myself and to prevent myself from being able to contract and transmit the virus any further.” He explains that the speed at which the vaccines were developed was attained by “cutting the slack while maintaining rigorous safety precautions.” And he notes that in a vaccine group of twenty-one thousand people, there were only four adverse events related to the virus, all of which were transient. 

Since both vaccines use mRNA technology, which has never been used in vaccines before, some wonder if they should trust them. The CDC explains that this technology has been studied for decades. The vaccines utilizing it do not inject viral material; rather, they give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein.” (The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.) When our cells receive the vaccine, they make this protein, then remove the mRNA instructions. 

Our immune system recognizes that this spike protein is foreign to us and builds a response that produces antibodies. Then, if we are exposed to the COVID-19 virus, we have antibody protection against it. 

Four cases of Bell’s palsy have occurred among thirty-eight thousand vaccine trial participants. However, this is half the typical incidence rate of Bell’s palsy in the general population, leading researchers to conclude that these occurrences were not related to the vaccine. The US Surgeon General also stated this week that the vaccine does not cause autism. 

A video circulating on social media wrongly claims that some COVID-19 vaccines include microchips that allow the government to track patients. In reality, some syringes could contain optional chips to show when a vaccine dose is expired or counterfeit, but the optional chip would be on the syringe label and would not be injected into the person. Nor would it allow those receiving the vaccine to be tracked in any way. 

Who can take the vaccine safely? 

In response to my earlier article on the vaccine, a reader noted that she has a family member with a severe inability to detoxify her body and wondered if the vaccine would be safe for her. She also noted the question of persons with autism. 

Again, I am not offering medical advice and encourage you to consult with your physician as you make such decisions. However, I can point you to this medical guide regarding those who can take the vaccine safely. It notes that the vaccine has not been tested on those who are pregnant or lactating. It points to the CDC’s extensive guidance regarding those with allergies. 

And it notes that the Pfizer vaccine is not yet authorized for anyone below the age of sixteen, since studies with this age group are not complete. I would add that the Autism Society is urging the autism community “to be vaccinated as distribution becomes possible.” 

Will we be required to take a vaccine? 

A radio interviewer asked me yesterday if I thought we would be required to take a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available to us. My answer is that we do not yet know if the government, employers, or businesses will impose such mandates on civilians, employees, and/or customers. 

However, I agree with three evangelical ethicists who write: “From a moral point of view, it is important that individual conscience not be violated. Individuals may have personal reasons for temporary or indefinite refusal. Perhaps a person might wish to see better long-term evidence, for example, or might delay vaccination so that more vulnerable members of the population receive it first.” They add: “If mandates are widely issued, legal cases in defense of conscience rights will almost certainly find their way through the courts.” 

A prayer for today 

I’m confident that we will return to this topic many times over the coming months. For today, let’s close with Paul’s prayer “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:9–11).

Let’s pray for “knowledge and all discernment” every day, to the glory of God.

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