[Photo Courtesy of the Trans-European Division]

General Conference

Exploring “Vaccines, Freedom and Loving Our Neighbour”

The Adventist health message and vaccination is not a case of either-or.

United Kingdom | David Neal with Vanesa Pizzuto

In a recent COVID-19 symposium hosted by The Trans-European Division (TED) leadership, professionals from different disciplines answered key questions about the coronavirus pandemic, personal liberties, and the use of vaccines.

The January 19 symposium, “Vaccines, Freedom and Loving Our Neighbour”, was broadcast via the TED YouTube channel, with over 400 viewers watching live and nearly 3,000 more views at the time of writing. Four presentations were given by two medical doctors, a theologian, and an attorney, followed by eighty minutes for questions and answers.

Ganoune Diop, Ph.D., director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, explored the nature and scope of religious freedom. While explicitly supporting individual choices, Diop stated that “personal conviction is not corporate responsibility” and called the COVID-19 pandemic “a public health issue, a life-and-death issue… not one of religious liberty”. Diop spent the last part of his presentation debunking common myths about the vaccine. “To reduce the mark of the beast to a vaccine is simply sacrilegious”, said Diop, who also called people not to “weaponize vaccination” and to respect those with whom we disagree.

Attorney Jennifer Woods, PARL associate director at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, explored the history of vaccination and its importance in eradicating diseases. Woods also discussed vaccination mandates and the tension between protecting individual liberties and public health. “To ethically justify mandates, the benefits must outweigh the risks”, she said. Wood concluded her presentation by reflecting on why some vaccine objections aren’t a religious liberty issue and why Christians should be careful when considering this matter.

Dr. Peter Landless, director of the Health Ministry department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, shared thoughts on how to live wisely through and beyond the pandemic. While affirming the importance of a healthy lifestyle and natural remedies, Landless emphasised, “It is not an either/or; it’s a both/and… Trust in God is foundational; an important adjuvant, though, is immunisation”. Landless concluded his presentation by highlighting the importance of honouring and respecting all views.

Dr. Carlos Casiano, professor of Medicine of Microbiology at Loma Linda University, was the final speaker and provided an overview of the current scientific and medical understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic. Casiano affirmed that “COVID-19 is the third most deadly pandemic of the last 100 years”, following the Spanish flu and the HIV/AIDS pandemics, adding that “5.5 million people died from COVID-19” and the numbers are likely to increase once “excess deaths are computed”. As the pandemic “will not go away”, Casiano urged viewers to take a responsible and scientifically informed approach. Casiano also explained the importance of wearing appropriate masks and why wearing one “does not mean breathing your own carbon dioxide”. The last part of this presentation was dedicated to explaining how vaccines work, what is inside them, and why even vaccinated people catch COVID-19. “Vaccines do not prevent infections from entering our bodies, but they do prevent severe diseases caused by those agents”, emphasised Casiano.

Question Time

Patrick Johnson, TED Ministerial Association secretary, led a roundtable dynamic, giving the speakers an opportunity to answer many of the questions submitted both in advance and during the presentations. Some of these questions included “Are you satisfied with the long-term safety of the vaccines currently in use?” “How do we check claims for veracity?” “What if a vaccine is mandated to attend church?” among many other thought-provoking questions. The speakers concluded their questions-and-answers time highlighting that the Adventist health message and vaccination, particularly in the context of a public health emergency, go hand in hand. They do {not?} antagonise but complement each other.

This article was originally published on the Trans-European Division’s news site