I'm a priest. I've spent my life encouraging people to come to church. But, right now I say: "If you haven't had your covid shots, don't go to church!" Watch online. Go to a safely spaced outdoor service if your church offers one. But if you aren't immunized, it is a risk to yourself and to your neighbors for you to attend church indoors. Stay home.
It's now OK for fully vaccinated people to meet indoors without taking physical distancing measures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks outside in most cases.
But if you haven't had your shots, please wear your mask and keep your distance everywhere. Even with your mask, don't stay inside for over 10 or 15 minutes in a large place like a supermarket, and don't ever go to a crowded place or to a small enclosure for over a couple of minutes.
Some of the new variants of covid are more infectious and deadlier than the original virus that has already infected more than 32.5 million and killed more than 579,000 in the U.S. alone. This is life-and-death stuff.
Get the shots. The shots are safe. According to Johns Hopkins, Pfizer and Moderna have "very good safety records." The Johnson & Johnson shot has a rare risk of about seven per 1 million vaccinated women between 18 and 49 years old, and doctors can coach you through that risk process.
Once you are immunized, you have a very small chance of getting sick from the virus, and if you should become infected, the illness will be less severe. If infected, you would run a smaller risk for needing to be hospitalized and it is very unlikely you would die. After half-a-million American deaths, that is good news indeed.
The vaccine has proved to be safe for people over 16 regardless of underlying health conditions, with one exception. If you have a history of severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to injectables or other vaccines, you need to discuss the vaccination with your doctor to assess the risk. To make sure you don't have the rare allergic reaction to polyethylene glycol (PEG) or polysorbate, everyone getting a shot needs to wait 15 minutes after receiving an injection before departing. Other than those rare exceptions, these vaccines have proved to be extremely safe after more than 250 million shots.
All of the authorized vaccines are very good at preventing severe infection, hospitalization and death from the virus. You cannot and will not get covid-19 from any of the vaccines. They have no infectious material in them. It doesn't change your DNA. The current vaccines are performing well against the variants. Expect future booster shots to address newcomer variants. If we stop the virus now, it has less chance to create new, more threatening variants.
The early trials did not include pregnant women or children under 12. We hope to hear from new research before too long. The vaccine is safe and available to people regardless of underlying health conditions, except for the previously mentioned severe allergies. You can receive the vaccine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. It might comfort you to talk with your doctor if you have concerns.
I write all of this because there is misinformation abroad. Some people, including some ministers, are encouraging people not to take the vaccine. This pandemic is the most important health challenge of our lifetime. It is a violation of pastoral responsibility for a minister to discourage vaccination. It is potentially a deadly risk for worshipers to assemble ignoring covid safety protocols in the name of freedom of religion.
We are close to freedom from this plague. But that will not happen unless nearly all of us are vaccinated.
We already know how to do this. Vaccines have totally defeated smallpox, polio and diphtheria. Rubella, measles, mumps, chickenpox, tetanus and whooping cough no longer rage.
I see the vaccines as a triumph of wisdom and love. Human ingenuity and perseverance created these vaccines with great efficiency and passion. I believe that receiving the gift of the vaccine is an act of love – loving and protecting yourself and the precious gift of your own life, and loving your neighbor and protecting them so that your own breath is no longer a threat to their life.
Except for the rare allergic condition, I can see no ethical or rational reason for refusing the vaccine. Please contribute to our universal liberation from this pandemic. Get the shots. Then, go to church.