This is Part 1 of a series of blogs responding to the recent Evangelical Alliance webinar on the ethics of the Covid-19 vaccines. I'm grateful to the EA for hosting this timely and stimulating online event.
A recording of the event, together with a written introduction from the EA and accompanying papers, is available here, so I won’t spend virtual ink summarising who said what.
Instead, in this series of blogs, I want to pick up on a few specific points, offer some personal reflections/analysis, and then suggest how we might helpfully advance the debate in a new and different direction.
Starting-Points and Inclinations
I think it’s worth noticing what appears to be the broadly shared leaning of the hosts and panellists. This is an observation, not a criticism. We all approach this topic (as any) with preconceptions. But we should try to be aware of these, question them, and appreciate the way in which they might influence where we go next.
The event started on this footing:
Lives and livelihoods are at urgent risk and a vaccine protecting us from COVID-19 appears to offer hope of recovery for both. So the imminent mass-roll out of a vaccine looks like good and welcome news! Yes?
Hopefully so, but…
The default here seems to be an adoption of the Government’s and much of the mainstream media’s narrative, but there’s another side of the story to consider.
Certainly some lives are at “urgent risk” due to Covid: if someone is very elderly or already has pre-existing conditions, “urgent risk” may well be an appropriate descriptor. (Many of the same people are also at urgent risk from other causes of death.) But even accounting for these people, there is a 99% survival rate for people who catch the virus. Of those who die, the average age at death is above general life expectancy and 90% have one or more pre-existing conditions. The death stats we are bombarded with on a daily basis in the UK, don’t forget, are people who’ve died with Covid-19, not necessarily from Covid-19: there is a big (but largely ignored) difference. All this to say: are we quite certain that Covid-19 merits the unspeakably costly level of attention we are giving it? Does it really warrant a global, possibly quasi-mandatory vaccine, and ruinous lockdowns?
There are surely other contenders for such attention: what about malaria, which kills otherwise healthy children, or tuberculosis, which has killed about as many people this year as the Covid-19 death toll worldwide – and we’re talking about people who’ve died from, not with. And then there is the global baby genocide which is claiming something like 50 million lives a year – about 30 times the Covid-19 death toll.
Indeed, according to the WHO the TB death toll could be even greater this year because of our response to Covid-19, which leads us onto another consideration: what about all the excess deaths caused not by Covid-19 itself, but by our responses to Covid-19? 4.4 million cancer scans have been missed in England compared to last year due to our response to Covid-19. Many are not going to hospital for treatment because they have been convinced it’s not safe and are dying at home instead. There is a suggestion that lockdowns have led to an increase in suicide. And all this is before the significant trickledown effects of poverty are felt as who knows how many livelihoods are lost – with all the negative health and social impact that this will have. There is at least a case to be made that lives, literal lives, are at “urgent risk” because we are holding our breath for a vaccine at the cost of almost everything else. The promise of a vaccine, therefore, would not be the solution so much as part of the problem, especially as the Pfizer CEO does not even claim that it definitely prevents transmission.
As for livelihoods being at urgent risk and the vaccine being the solution: this is how the Government has decided things should be, but there’s no a priori reason why it should be so. We don’t tell people that they can only keep their livelihoods if they vaccinate against the flu, or stop smoking, or lose some weight. This is a social contract set up by the Government, and we should at least question it rather than nod along with it. It’s no laughing matter if you are a single working parent who loses their only job because the Government has decided you can’t have it until there’s vaccine – or until it’s rolled out everywhere – or until we’ve observed it’s actually effective – or only so long as there isn’t another pandemic.
Why This Matters
If we accept the equation as put to us by the Government, that Covid-19 is the most serious concrete problem facing the world today and a vaccine is the only answer, it is inevitable that we will want to make the vaccine work, and we will be tempted to see ethical qualms as obstacles to be overcome rather than something we give the right to put the brakes on the whole thing entirely.
Is it possible that this is why so few Christians are coming out against vaccines that use aborted baby cell lines, or even asking the question? They have been convinced that the vaccine is fundamentally necessary and fundamentally good, and that weighs more heavily than other considerations?
Many – including some of the panellists at this EA event – rightly state that “the ends don’t justify the means”. But it’s not long before we find ourselves in “the greater good” territory: “Yes, this vaccine was unethically produced, but look at all the good it would do or harm it would prevent if I took it.” How different really are these lines of thinking? We may not expressly justify the means but we accept the means. And if we agree with the mainstream narrative that this vaccine is the greatest good in living memory, how much “bad” would we need to identify in order to derail it?
But in fact, I am not convinced that “the greater good” is the right way to go about things - though I'm sure it's sincere and well-intended. It is too similar to the kind of thinking that keeps quiet about evil because it might upset people or damage relationships: some of us won’t talk about abortion for example because (we say) it will put people off the gospel. What gives us the impression that we have the perspective to weigh almost infinite possible outcomes and decide in favour of “the greater good”? Are we in a place to make that judgment? Do we know the future?
Instead, we need to return to: What is God’s will? What is biblical? What is Jesus-like? And we must leave outcomes to God: we just need to do the right thing.
Even if the mainstream narrative about Covid-19 and the vaccine is right, it would still be incumbent on us to listen to God and simply do the right thing, against social pressure if necessary and whatever the outcome. But we do need to be honest about the clouding effect of such social pressure and threatened outcome. We’ve been here before: in 1967 we believed those who told us that legalised abortion would be “the greater good” or the “lesser of two evils”. We didn’t look to the Bible, we didn’t think it through ourselves. We went with the flow.
Walking in the Counsel of the Wicked
One final word on assuming the mainstream narrative: we need to be careful whom we are allowing to become for us a moral authority, in this and then in other areas.
In the “recommended reading” list (and I know that recommended reading doesn’t equal approval, but these are listed uncritically and some of the ideas found within them resonate with what some of the speakers said, so they do seem to be supporting documents rather than contrary), is a document from the World Health Organisation about sifting “information” from “misinformation” and “disinformation”. In this document, the WHO admits that it is working with major digital companies and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube to censor what it doesn’t deem to be true or helpful. This should trouble us. What gives the WHO a monopoly on facts or opinions about Covid-19?
The WHO is a key global leader in accelerating the baby genocide, calling it healthcare, and wants to drive the pan-sexual revolution into primary schools worldwide. They have also failed to call China to account for covering up Covid-19 in the early weeks and months of the pandemic. Of course, none of this means that everything the WHO says is false, but should we really accept the assertion that they are the global custodians of truth about healthcare, including this virus? That they have the right to censor others?
Also in the recommended reading list is an “ethics expert” called Giubolini who argues in favour of post-birth abortion, that is, the killing of newborn babies. Is this the kind of person who belongs uncritically on an evangelical recommended reading list? What does he know about right and wrong?
God can use Cyrus and he can speak through a donkey: I am not saying that we cannot benefit or learn from unbelievers. But we need to be extremely discerning about the (often unspoken) assumptions that underpin their entire worldviews, especially when it comes to questions of ethics. There is no such thing as an “expert” in ethics, but especially not someone who is unregenerate and dead in their sins, living in steady rebellion against and denial of the God who alone is good and dictates what is right and wrong.
If it seems like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here, it’s because more damage can be done by our assumptions than by our conscious deliberations. The people we listen to, the narratives we swallow, the fears and hopes we adopt, influence our destination far more than we care to realise.
In 1967, we believed made-up numbers for backstreet abortions and we believed the lie that legalised abortion would be better for everyone. We did not consult the Lord.
Here we are, 9.5 million slaughtered babies later – and countless others damaged by abortion.
Read Part 2 Why the Mainstream Christian Approach to Covid-19 Vaccine Ethics is Mistaken
Read Part 3 A Fresh Approach: from Consumers to Activists
Read Part 4 Vaccine Ethics: Black and White, or a Conscience Issue? What does the Bible say?