Vaccine and vaccination passions

Will the topic of vaccination cause another split in the Church? Photo: UOJ

Is it a sin not to get vaccinated? Is there a chip or abortion stuff in the vaccine? Should priests be punished for being against it? We analyze all these questions.

Vaccination against COVID-19 has long migrated from the medical plane to the political and now threatens to hit the religious plane as well. Will we soon hear anathemas of the unvaccinated from the vaccinated and vice versa? Is the Church exposed to the threat of secession on this matter, and what stance does the Ukrainian Orthodox Church take on this issue now? Let's try to figure it all out.

Types of vaccines

The principle of all vaccines is the same: something is injected into the human body at the cellular level to trigger an immune response without causing the disease itself. But depending on what this "something" is, vaccines can be classic, vector and m-RNA.

Classic vaccines are also divided into several types, but we will not delve into this issue – we will analyze the very principle of work. The body's immune response to the action of these vaccines is caused by the disease-causing virus contained in them, inactivated or weakened by various technologies. Such vaccines include, for example, the most widespread in Ukraine, the Chinese "CoronaVac", the Russian "EpiVacCorona" and "CoviVac". The traditional technology for producing vaccines has existed for about 200 years, it has been sufficiently studied, but, at the same time, its effectiveness against coronavirus is the lowest. According to some reports, the efficiency of CoronaVac is only 50%.

A vector vaccine is when there is an extraneous virus that is completely safe for humans (this is the "vector"), into which the gene of a pathogenic virus is inserted, which causes the intended immune response. These include vaccines: the British-Swedish "AstraZeneca", the American "Johnson & Johnson", the Russian "Sputnik V" and others. The effectiveness of such vaccines is 80-90% or more.

M-RNA vaccines. This is a completely new vaccination technology that was only in clinical trials before the current coronavirus pandemic. Before the advent of COVID-19, none of the vaccines created with this technology had been approved for use in humans. With the advent of the coronavirus, it was decided to overlook the lack of objective data and to put such vaccines into wide circulation as soon as possible.

M-RNA vaccines do not contain the virus itself (weakened or inactivated) nor even a piece of the virus embedded in another virus, but just some "instruction" in the form of a RNA molecule messenger, which contains information about the protein of the SARS-CoV virus -2. When it enters the cell of the human body, this instruction makes it synthesize the protein, which our body gives the required immune response to. M-RNA vaccines are currently represented by the US-German Pfizer / BioNTech and the US Moderna. Their declared efficiency is 95%.

This type of vaccine is the most controversial, since there is a completely logical fear: does this mRNA molecule contain, in addition to instructions for the production of S-proteins, other instructions that neither we nor, perhaps, even the developers themselves know about? How will this instruction, introduced into the human body, work in a few years or decades? What other systems of the body, besides the immune, can it affect? Again, the answer to this question has not yet been received, not only in relation to vaccines against coronavirus, but also in relation to m-RNA vaccines in general.

How will this instruction, introduced into the human body, work in a few years or decades? What other systems of the body, besides the immune, can it affect?

Vaccine-related claims

The arguments of opponents of vaccination against COVID-19 can be roughly divided into several groups.

1. Chipping. Some believe that under the guise of vaccination, a kind of miniature electronic device is introduced into the human body that performs a controlling function (chip). Such people believe that the chip introduced under the guise of a vaccine is the seal of antichrist, which is spoken of in the Holy Scriptures.

These arguments have absolutely no basis at all, except for the imagination of those who transmit these arguments to society. Even very famous, respected people succumb to the temptation to earn popularity among people who are avid for various conspiracy theories. For example, the Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov, who would very convincingly tell that when a person is vaccinated, a chip is injected, got vaccinated after a fairly short time himself and announced this publicly.

At present, “hiding” a chip in a vaccine is technically extremely problematic, just as it is problematic to organize a unified systemic management of “chips” in vaccines from different manufacturers.

2. Change in the genetic code. Coronavirus vaccines are believed to be capable of changing a person's genetic code and affecting certain body functions. These claims concern mainly m-RNA vaccines, which carry certain instructions the human body must follow. While vaccine developers assert that the mRNA molecule cannot “gnaw through” our DNA and RNA molecules and change our genetic code, some scientists feel more cautious. They say the ability to incorporate an mRNA molecule into human DNA and RNA has not been proven. In other words, science still has too little data to unequivocally state either of the standpoints.

Most often, opponents of vaccines argue that they negatively affect reproductive function, and that vaccination is a conspiracy to reduce the world's population. It will be possible to prove or disprove this only in a few decades. Again, such concerns may only make sense in relation to mRNA vaccines. Blaming other types of vaccines for interfering with human DNA and RNA is like claiming that certain foods can influence our genetic code.

3. Side effects. This is not about the fact that someone may have a short and slight fever or scratch the vaccination site, but rather serious consequences. For example, some media outlets, citing a study by the American National Center for Biotechnology Information, claim that over 80% (!!!) of pregnant women in the United States, who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the early stages, suffered miscarriages or spontaneous abortions. And some European countries, including Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Spain and others, stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine due to frequent cases of thrombosis, leading to death.

4. Low efficiency. Clinical studies have shown that a number of vaccines have very low efficacy. Mostly, the Chinese vaccines produced by Sinovac Biotech Ltd. –  at the level of 50.4% or Sinopharm – about 72-79%. But European vaccines also turn out to be ineffective, for example, the vaccine of the German company Curevac has an efficiency of only 47%.

However, the low efficiency of individual vaccines is still half the trouble, because the above mentioned "Pfizer / BioNTech" or "Sputnik V" have an efficiency of more than 90%, and in relation to severe cases of the course of coronavirus – 100%. The trouble is that COVID-19 is constantly mutating, and vaccines are generally powerless against individual mutations.

As recently as July 5, 2021, the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced that the so-called "Indian strain" or "delta strain" is marching around the world, regardless of any vaccines. “It is spreading in countries with both low and high immunization rates. This requires careful monitoring of the situation and adjusting the strategy of dealing with it. The triumphant march of the Indian strain shows that vaccine developers do not yet have an answer to such a challenge as the emergence of new mutations,” said Gebreyesus.

A natural question arises: why get vaccinated and expose yourself to the risk of side effects if tomorrow your vaccine will be completely useless against a new strain of coronavirus?

Why get vaccinated and expose yourself to the risk of side effects if tomorrow your vaccine is completely useless against a new strain of coronavirus?

It cannot yet be said that the incidence rate by country directly correlates with the level of vaccination of the population. For example, in Ukraine, where vaccination is proceeding very slowly and is accompanied by a number of scandals associated with missed deadlines and shortages of vaccines, only 610 new cases of infection and 33 deaths were reported per day on July 6, 2021, despite the fact that according to official statistics, the number of Ukrainians is about 40 million people. At the same time, in Russia, where vaccination is proceeding at an accelerated pace, and almost 18% of the population has already been vaccinated, 23,378 new cases of coronavirus and 737 deaths were recorded in the same day.

5. The main complaint is religious or moral and ethical. For believers, it is not only and not so much the above claims to vaccines that matter, but how impeccable they are from a moral and ethical point of view. Previously, this issue was not raised so extensively, but with the advent of COVID-19, rather unsightly aspects of the vaccine industry began to emerge. It turned out that many of them (not only from coronavirus, but also from other diseases) are based on biomaterial obtained from abortion. It turned out that many laboratories around the world have been using cell lines obtained from aborted babies to create vaccines for decades.

For example, when creating the Sputnik V vaccine, one of the world's most famous cell lines HEK 293 (Human Embryonic Kidney) was used, created in 1973 from the cells of an aborted child's embryonic kidneys. The WI-38 line was obtained in 1964 from the diploid cells of the lung tissue of a 12-week-old aborted girl in Sweden. The MRC-5 line was obtained in 1966 from the lung cells of a 14-week-old boy. These three lines underlie the creation of very many, if not most of the vaccines in the world, in particular for rubella, hepatitis A, chickenpox, rabies and others. Most Western coronavirus vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and others, are also based on these lines. Of course, the vaccines themselves contain neither the aborted cells themselves nor even their traces, and the abortions themselves were not carried out for the purpose of sampling biomaterial, but the fact remains: many vaccines emerged from the sin of abortion.

According to the statements of the manufacturers of the Russian vaccines "CoviVac" and "EpiVacCorona", cell lines originating from abortive material were not used in their creation.

Position of the Church and other religious organizations

Today, we can say that none of the main religious denominations in the world has an unambiguous and unified position on coronavirus vaccination. There are radicals in every denomination who view vaccines as a way of chipping or suppressing fertility. There are religious leaders who call for a distinction between vaccines, approving some of them and prohibiting others. For example, in some Muslim countries, vaccines are divided into halal (permitted) and haram (prohibited). The latter include not only those created with the help of abortive cell lines, but also those in the creation of which pork gelatin was used. There are groups in Judaism that distinguish between kosher and non-kosher vaccines. In Christianity, there is also a division of vaccines into "ethically flawless" and "faulty", depending on the use or non-use of abortive cells.

There are leaders in every denomination who do not pay attention to kosher / non-kosher at all and urge to be vaccinated with any available vaccine. The reasoning behind these people is simple and straightforward – the potential for vaccines to save lives outweighs any reasoning about their appropriateness or non-appropriateness. Many believe that in a situation where thousands of people die every day from COVID-19, there is no room for discussions about the sin of abortion, which was committed half a century ago.

Interesting in this regard is the position of the Vatican, which was worded by the Congregation of Faith and approved by Pope Francis in December 2020: “If there is no alternative access to 'ethically impeccable' vaccines, it is morally acceptable to use vaccines against COVID-19, which were developed and produced with the help of an aborted fetus’ cells." That is, sin ceases to be a sin if there is no alternative. Very “Catholic-esque”.

In Orthodoxy, there is also no single point of view on vaccination. We will not consider the statements of such controversial personalities as the former schema-abbot of the Mid-Ural nunnery Sergei Romanov. There are very authoritative personalities among the opponents of vaccination who make a good case in support of their position.

For example, the highly authoritative hierarch of the Church of Cyprus, Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou, believes that vaccination is one of the elements of planting a "new world order", whose champions "pave the way for a new era of high technologies without morality, without virtue, without the  divinely incarnated Jesus Christ." The bishop believes that “vaccination is one of the ways to reduce the population by causing death, incurable diseases and sterilization of the younger generation.”

The main argument of opponents of the position of Metropolitan Neophytos is very simple and logical: at a time when the direct harm to health from vaccines is minimal, and their long-term effect has not been studied, about 10 thousand people die of COVID-19 per day. This is the decline in the population, which Metropolitan Neophytos is concerned about.

A few days ago, two highly authoritative hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church made an appeal to be vaccinated, and they did it in very strict terms. The head of the DECR, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), declared on July 5, 2021 that those who refuse to be vaccinated are potential murderers: they did not vaccinate themselves or their loved ones and thus became the unwitting cause of death. They come and say: "How can I live with this now?" And it's even hard for me to say how to live with it now. All their life they have to atone for a sin committed."

For all the logic of such reasoning, one cannot fail to see at least two of their weak points.

  1. A similar logic applies to all infectious diseases in general, not just to coronavirus. According to the WHO, up to 650 thousand people die every year from diseases associated with the common flu. It turns out that the one who infected them is the killer? Can Metropolitan Hilarion himself be sure that he has not infected anyone in his life?
  2. Vaccine manufacturers do not claim that those who have been injected are completely safe from infection. Assumably, the vaccine can only provide protection against a severe disease. Therefore, even a vaccinated person cannot be 100% sure that he is not a source of infection.

Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Pskov went even further. On July 2, 2021, he announced that priests who oppose vaccinations may be subject to canonical bans.

“If, God forbid, someone from those who did not get vaccinated due to the fact that a priest dissuaded them from doing this becomes seriously ill or dies <...> if this happens, then such priests or monks will have to bear full canonical responsibility for their actions,” Vladyka said.

Again, everything is logical. But what if a specific believer, at the call of Vladyka Tikhon, goes, gets vaccinated, and as a result of complications dies or becomes disabled? What responsibility, including canonical responsibility, will the Pskov Metropolitan himself have to bear?

Of course, we can say that thousands of lives are more expensive than tens, but from a theological point of view, this is a wishy-washy argument, let's face it.

An illustrative story in the context of the confrontation between supporters and opponents of vaccination took place in the Valaam Monastery. The abbot of the monastery, Bishop Pankraty (Zhedyaev), obliged not only the brethren, but in general all those in the monastery to be vaccinated without fail. Otherwise, he threatened to expel from the monastery without any support both the brethren and the clergy, as well as workers and hired workers.

Such harshness of the abbot is quite understandable from a psychological point of view. Recently, he was very seriously ill with the Indian strain of coronavirus. Here is how he himself described his condition: "For a week I had a fever, 38 to 39, it was impossible to make it fall, I had a hellish headache, anxiety, pressure 160, pulse 120. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy." In addition to his own feelings, he saw the terrible suffering of other people. Therefore, it is not surprising that, upon returning to the monastery, he wrote: “All brethren should prepare for a complete vaccination. The first batch will be vaccinated on Saturday and Sunday. In case of refusal to vaccinate, any guilty person will be removed from the monastery without any financial assistance." At the same time, Vladyka Pankraty was vaccinated back in September 2020 with the Sputnik V vaccine.

There is a question in this respect. Given that he had recently been seriously ill, did the vaccination turn out to be useless or, on the contrary, did it save him from death? Any answer to this question will be purely subjective.

Be that as it may, but the order of Bishop Pankraty contradicts the provision of voluntary vaccination, which has been repeatedly stated by both the hierarchy of the ROC and the secular authorities of Russia. The abbot of the Valaam monastery was bombarded with accusations of despotism and violation of human rights. This story ended as follows: on June 30, 2021, a circular letter signed by the first vicar of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in Moscow, Metropolitan Dionysius (Porubay)of Voskresensk, was sent to the entire Moscow diocese and stauropegic monasteries, which, in addition to calling for vaccination, said: "Regulatory documents on the vaccination of employees of religious organizations, issued on the initiative of their leaders, are advisory in nature." Also, the Deputy Administrator of the ROC, Bishop Savva (Tutunov) of Zelenograd wrote in his telegram channel: “Regarding Valaam. To date, any coercion to vaccination is out of question. His Eminence Pankraty tries to admonish the brethren in a fatherly way. There cannot be any ‘eviction’ due to non-vaccination."

On May 20, 2021, Moscow hosted the Round Table "Vaccination: Ethical Issues in the Light of the Orthodox Doctrine", which was attended by the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, clergy, laity, scientists, doctors. The key takeaways of the final document adopted at the Round Table were as follows:

  • the Orthodox faith does not require giving up vaccination;
  • amid the coronavirus pandemic, it is necessary to fight, including with the help of vaccination;
  • the person has to personally make the decision about vaccination;
  • there should be no distinction between the rights of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated;
  • there are side effects of vaccination, including severe ones, therefore it is necessary to ensure the quality of vaccines and the vaccination process itself;
  • the opinion about chipping or implanting the seal of the Antichrist with the help of vaccines is false, and its dissemination is sinful;
  • whenever possible, vaccines that do not use abortive cell lines should be given preference.

Regarding the last point, the resolution of the Round Table almost completely repeats the wording of the Vatican. Quote: “Currently, in the absence of an available alternative, bearing in mind the threat to human health and life from the coronavirus infection COVID-19, an Orthodox person using a vaccine against this disease, created or tested using an embryonic human cell culture, is not involved in the sin of abortion, as a result of which this cell culture was created.”

In the absence of a conciliar document of the ROC on the issue of vaccination, the resolution of this Round Table can very convebtionally be considered the position of the ROC on this issue.

The threat of secession

Obviously, another issue – the attitude to vaccination – was added to the list of the Church-splitting issues alongside the recognition of the OCU and the Phanar's claim to the headship in the Church.

Obviously, another issue – the attitude to vaccination – was added to the list of the Church-splitting issues alongside the recognition of the OCU and the Phanar's claim to the headship in the Church.

Above, it was mentioned about a severe backlash of Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou regarding vaccination. In response, the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church sent a letter to the Synod of the Cypriot Orthodox Church with a demand to “limit” the sermons of Metropolitan Neophytos against vaccination. Moreover, the letter directly stated that the sermons of Metropolitan Neophytos posed the danger of "destroying the relationship between the Church of Cyprus and the Church of Greece."

There are also opponents of vaccination within the Church of Greece. The situation in the Russian Orthodox Church has already been described above. Similar processes are going on in many other Local Churches. Vaccination advocates cite horrific statistics of morbidity and mortality and also threaten "vaccine-non-conformists" with canonical punishments. Vaccine opponents are asking reasonable questions about vaccine efficacy, side effects, as well as moral and ethical implications of abortion-derived vaccines. There is a group of supporters of the theory of chipping or the antichrist seal, who view all those vaccinated as apostates.

Will the opposition of these groups reach the point of breaking church communion? Today this option is improbable, but the point is different. There are ominous forecasts from both virologists and the powers that be. For example, Bill Gates, who is called by many as the "author" of the coronavirus pandemic, in January 2021 in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung announced the next pandemic, which could be "tenfold worse" than COVID-19. He also names the possible timing of the appearance of the next deadly virus: two to three years.

Of course, we will say “God forbid” and cross ourselves. But if this really happens, one can only imagine how much the confrontation between supporters and opponents of vaccinations and other anti-epidemiological measures in the church environment will exacerbate. The Church may hence face a real split.

Position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Against the backdrop of how the leaders of the Uniates or the OCU are vaccinated live, the position of the UOC, at first glance, looks rather amorphous. No official announcements, round tables, calls for or refusals to vaccinate. We do not divide people into vaccinated and not vaccinated, we do not condemn supporters or opponents of vaccination, we do not arrange public discussions that can further alienate us from each other.

In the situation at hand, this position seems to be the only correct one. After all, everything related to the coronavirus leaves more questions than answers:

  • Why is vaccination not correlated with morbidity?
  • Why do vaccinated people get sick, even seriously?
  • Why do some people have a mild course of the disease, while others have a severe course regardless of age and often because of chronic diseases?
  • Why do some develop immunity while others do not?
  • What are the long-term consequences of using vaccines?
  • Is the human immune system itself undermined by vaccines?

Until all these (and many other) questions have no unambiguous answer, the Church cannot take one point of view or another. By and large, vaccination is a medical issue, not an ecclesiastical one, with the exception, perhaps, of the argument associated with the use of abortive cells by the creation of vaccines.

However, the UOC should still outline its position both on the issue of vaccination itself and its legal aspects. It seems advisable that such a position would include two main points: voluntary vaccination and equal rights regardless of vaccination.

And most importantly, it is necessary to remember that no matter how valuable a person's life on earth is, their fate in eternity is incomparably more important. The Lord said: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). The Lord requires that we love our neighbors, and if we hate them because of different positions on the issue of vaccination, what answer will we give to the Lord?

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