Read part 2 here

Soon you will be offered a vaccine. A few of you already have been; some of which have gladly accepted, others of whom have politely declined. And rightly so—your body, your choice. A strictly personal decision. Isn’t it?

In the early instances of vaccination, there was opposition. But nothing like the modern movement we see today. It is termed movement, as momentum is surely gathering. But, why now?

For example, to be anti-vaccination in the early 1900’s was extremely rare. “In 1905 the US Supreme court ruled on Jackson v. Massachusetts over a five dollar fine imposed on a pastor who refused to vaccinate. The court ruled that the states may restrict individual liberties if great dangers to the safety of the general public are present.” This, however, came with a concession: “although states could punish those who refuse to vaccinate with fines or imprisonment, they could not forcibly vaccinate. An analogy was made by the Supreme Court to periods of war, when individual liberties may be reduced in order to protect the larger community”. The judges were searching for a legal balance between the rights of the individual versus the benefit of the collective. We are seeing similar discourse in our media today: should border workers and other high-risk employees be demoted or transferred if refusing to be vaccinated?

The modern anti-vaccine movement is quite different to the original, often isolated, vaccine hesitancy instances of the past. The modern movement took off after a publication in 1998 that claimed there was a link between the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine and a new type of autism. The paper was published in the British Medical Journal Lancet. Later, ten of the twelve authors issued a retraction, the journal took the unusual step of retracting the article, a judge ruled that the vaccine was safe for children, and the lead author of the paper, Andrew Wakefield, was shown to have a conflict of interest which he did not declare.1 A retrospective study of over 5000 children found no increased risk of developing autism symptoms in the months following vaccination.2

The sad reality is that misinformation in our era spreads quicker than validated, factual news. This was reflected in a 2008 study3 of internet websites, revealing that more than 50% of search results returned for ‘vaccine safety’ and ‘vaccine danger’ provided inaccurate information. Where 18th century anti-vaccine activists distributed pamphlets and held rallies; modern activists have instant access to an array of social media platforms that can appear legitimate while spreading information that is uncorroborated or simply incorrect. This isn’t to say that those who are vaccine hesitant are uneducated or ignorant. It is only to say that we must be aware of the potential correlation between information and statistics out of context, and our current media consumption habits.

Vaccine hesitancy doesn’t always mean misinformation, as we have seen with recently authenticated reports that viral transmission is still possible post vaccination. Research has verified this, yet receiving the vaccine significantly reduces your risk of getting the virus or passing it on. Breaking these chains of transmission is the reason for the vaccine, before the virus is able to mutate and become uncontrollable. Seeking out complete and contextual information is crucial.

And even with the same information, we won’t always agree. We are all aware of the differences of opinion within our community as a Christ-centred movement. These are wonderful, they bring a richness and diversity that challenges and strengthens. And despite these distinctions, we are like the many veins in one body: all different but linked to the one heart. The Christ who cared deeply for the lowly, the Christ who sacrificed, the Christ who laid down his life.

History will remember our decisions during this desperate time. Will we be remembered as a collective that fought for the lowliest, or as a group of bystanders that were fixated on the rights of self? That’s your choice.

This article is part 3 of 4, taking a look at our collective role in the vaccine choice. Part 4 explores our sphere of influence and the role we must embody as followers of Christ. This article was originally published by NZBMS and is re-published with permission.

Contributors: Alan Jamieson and edited by Kelly Enright

Alan is the general director of NZBMS and Kelly is their communications coordinator.

References:

  1. His conflict of interest involved being paid to draw a link between the MMR vaccine and autism in order to justify legal proceedings.
  2. Jonathan M. Berman (2020) Anti-Vaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement. P77.
  3. Journal of medical Internet Research 10 (2008): e17.