With the recent outbreak of measles in the eastern Fraser Valley I have been asked what my position on vaccinations is. Most of us have heard on the news that the outbreak is mostly isolated to some small “Reformed Christian” communities in east Chilliwack. I am a “Reformed Christian” who is in east Chilliwack, however my view is not representative of all Reformed Christians – even of those in my denomination, the Canadian Reformed Churches. As well, there are many Reformed Christians who choose not to vaccinate for reasons other than religion. There are differing views among the handful of different Reformed denominations, each seeking to glorify God and stay true to scripture, however most of the denominations have no formal stance for or against vaccinations that I was able to find online.
First I want to say, please don’t believe everything you read in the news, or on Google, or in Wikipedia – or on this blog. What I present here is my own research and my own beliefs. I encourage you all to do your own digging in the Bible and in scientific journals to really learn for yourself. I have to admit I cannot stand fear-mongering on either side of this debate, “Get the MMR or your child will die!” is not valid as we can plainly see that the stats show a decline in mortality rates prior to the MMR vaccine. But why is that? With the onset of better sanitation and medical practices and breakthroughs, particularly the increased use of IV therapy in the 1930’s-1950’s, hospitals saw a reduction in mortality rates for all diseases -not just measles. Is this a good reason not to vaccinate? I am not so sure. There are still approximately 170,000 deaths per year world wide due to measles. And when people say things like “I wasn’t vaccinated and I turned out ok…” that is not a valid argument against vaccinations! This is a controversial issue that is personal, and I believe that it falls under Romans 14. So please do not let my views sway you, each of us should be convinced in his own mind.
Here are my thoughts.
From the Reformation we get the 5 Sola’s. All Reformed Christians affirm the 5 sola’s as foundational; one of which is “Soli Deo Gloria”…to God alone be the glory. As a doctrine, “Soli Deo Gloria” means simply that everything that is done is for God’s glory. We, as Christians, are to be motivated and inspired by God’s glory and not our own motives. Yes, as Christians, everything we do should be to the glory of God. Every decision we make, every choice should be weighed against this question…”Does this glorify God?” or “How can I seek to glorify God in this?” So, does vaccinating my kids glorify God? How do I know if it does or not? “Sola Scriptura” is another of the 5 sola’s which translates as “scripture alone.” Simply put, Reformed Christians believe that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness, and for glorifying God. We believe that the Bible is the final authority in doctrine and in life. So, for an answer, we must go to the Bible.
But the Bible says nothing explicitly about vaccinations.
How are we to respond when the Bible says nothing explicitly about something? Where Scripture is silent in explicit terms, we should always look to see if there is something we can learn implicitly. Or put another way, we look to see if something is implied in principle. What we do know is that with a vaccine we are intentionally putting something into our bodies, and the Bible does speak about being good stewards of the bodies we have. Part of being a good steward is to not blindly cause ourselves harm. Reformed Christians confess in Lord’s Day 40 of the Heidelberg Catechism that the sixth commandment implies that not only are we not to harm others, we are not to harm ourselves:
105. Q.What does God requirein the sixth commandment?
A.I am not to dishonour, hate, injure,or kill my neighbourby thoughts, words, or gestures,and much less by deeds,whether personally or through another; 1rather, I am to put awayall desire of revenge. 2Moreover, I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself. 3Therefore, also, the government bears the swordto prevent murder. 4
- 1. Gen 9:6; Lev 19:17, 18; Mt 5:21, 22; 26:52.
- 2. Prov 25:21, 22; Mt 18:35; Rom 12:19; Eph 4:26.
- 3. Mt 4:7; 26:52; Rom 13:11-14.
- 4. Gen 9:6; Ex 21:14; Rom 13:4.
So we should know what we are putting in our bodies, be it food, alcohol, chemicals, tobacco, medication or vaccines – whatever. We all have a duty to investigate and make informed choices. This is the reason why I don’t smoke any more. I believe that smoking does not glorify God and makes me a poor steward of my body. So, through cursory research of a few peer reviewed scientific and medical journals, and even Google searches of reliable websites, we can easily see that there indeed are risks associated with vaccines. These risks they are minimal, but are still risks none the less. Results from two very large case series studies involving about 1,500,000 children who were given the MMR vaccine containing Urabe or Leningrad-Zagreb strains show this vaccine to be associated with aseptic meningitis; whereas administration of the vaccine containing Moraten, Jeryl Lynn, Wistar RA, RIT 4385 strains is associated with febrile convulsion in children aged below five years (one person-time cohort study, 537,171 participants; two self controlled case series studies, 1001 participants). The MMR vaccine could also be associated with idiopathic thrombocytopaenic purpura (two case-controls, 2450 participants, one self controlled case series, 63 participants). We could assess no significant association between MMR immunisation and the following conditions: autism, asthma, leukaemia, hay fever, type 1 diabetes, gait disturbance, Crohn’s disease, demyelinating diseases, or bacterial or viral infections Demicheli, V., Rivetti, A., Debalini, M., & Di Pietrantonj, C. (2013). (Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children. Evidence-Based Child Health, 8(6), 2076. doi:10.1002/ebch.1948)
But we can also see through these same medical journals that vaccines have also been extremely beneficial to the world. The following graph shows the number of reported measles cases per year in the United States. Actual cases were likely much higher: Alexander Langmuir estimated that about 4 million measles cases occurred in each year shortly before vaccine introduction (Langmuir AD. Medical importance of measles. Am J Dis Child 1962;103:54-56). Note the drop in cases after the introduction of the first measles vaccine in the early 1960s. Source: CDC/MMWR Summary of Notifiable Diseases, United States, 1993; CDC/MMWR Summary of Notifiable Diseases, United States, 2008.
A question we could ask is, “Should I ever use preventative medicine?”
Preventative medicine is not used to treat disease, but is in fact taking into your body something to prevent disease that could possibly harm you. I believe the Bible does imply that that preventative medicine is good. In 1 Timothy 5:23; the apostle Paul tells Timothy to “use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” We all know the dangers of alcohol abuse, and there are some people who are allergic to alcohol, but alcohol is not inherently evil. So like vaccines or other medications, some people may be harmed by wine. Yet Paul is giving Timothy advice to take wine as medicine to prevent illness…and prevent illness is what a vaccine does as demonstrated in the graph above. So I believe that the Bible does permit the use of preventative medicine, thus it implies that the use of vaccines is a good thing to prevent illness.
Now the question arises, “How we make those vaccines….does that glorify God?”
Vaccines are made from the virus that causes the disease that the vaccine is meant to prevent. What that means is the measles vaccine is made from the measles virus. That also means that manufacturers require living viruses to produce vaccines. Viruses require a living host in which to grow, and since it is not viable (or ethical) to grow it in living humans, vaccine manufacturers use human cells. The reason for this is that most viruses that we have vaccines for can only grow in certain human tissues. The ones that can grow in animals will often be harmful for humans. New methods are currently being researched that will allow vaccine production without the use of live host cells. Most vaccines are cultivated ethically – at least from what I was able to ascertain.
Here lies the biggest problem I personally have with certain vaccines…Some vaccines have been made using the tissue from aborted pre-born children. Without doing any research, when one hears, “Vaccines come from aborted children,” one may decide that vaccines are evil. I had that gut reaction. So I did my research, and found that there are literally thousands of peer reviewed journal articles to be read on this topic in databases like ebscohost, so please feel free to do your own digging.
Let’s stick with the issue at hand – the measles out break. In 1962 a preborn girl was aborted in Sweden and the body was taken to the USA, where tests were done on the various tissues. The “Rubella” of the MMR vaccine is cultivated from a human diploidcell culture, WI-38, which came from lung cells from this 3 month preborn girl. The rubella vaccine was only one of many made using WI-38. WI-38 was also used to make vaccines against polio, chickenpox, shingles, rabies, and hepatitis A. This cell strain has been growing in laboratory conditions since 1962 and hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines have been made. Today the Rubella virus is grown in a laboratory, and the vaccine is no longer manufactured using aborted human tissue.
Rubella virus usually causes a mild fever and rash in children and adults. However, infection during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or infants with congenital malformations, known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). 20% of infections result in miscarriage. A total of 94,030 rubella cases were reported to WHO in 2012, an 86% decrease from the 670,894 cases reported in 2000 from 102 member states. In 2000 there were approximately 550,000 reported miscarriages worldwide directly linked to maternal rubella infection.
In early 1964 there was a Rubella outbreak in the USA that led to approximately 20,000 infants being born with congenital defects, 6,250 miscarriages and 5,000 induced abortions. In 2001, the American Center for Disease Control reported that 3 babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome. In Canada, the average annual number of rubella cases decreased from approximately 4,000 in 1979 to about 1,800 in 1997 to less than 30 cases per year from 1998 to 2004. From 2006 to 2011, an average of less then 5 cases was reported annually. The average annual incidence rate per 100,000 population decreased from 0.20 in 1998 to 0.003 in 2011 (range: 0.003-0.03, except 2005). In 2005, the rubella incidence was about 1 per 100,000 in Canada.
So, from these stats you can plainly see that the rubella vaccine has prevented many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of miscarriages and induced abortions by protecting pregnant women from infection. But does that answer the question? Does the fact that the first Rubella Vaccine was made from WI-38 that was taken from the lung tissue of an aborted girl make it wrong to get the vaccine? I don’t believe so. That first abortion was not performed for the intent to create a vaccine. The scientists who developed the vaccine a few years later never performed an abortion. The rubella vaccine in fact prevents preborn children from dying and being born with congenital defects. I am saddened that the death of a preborn child was involved in the creation of the rubella vaccine. Is that reason not to get vaccinated? Do we not declare that God is sovereign and uses even evil for good? In Habakkuk we read that God will raise up Babylon, a “ruthless” and “dreaded” nation, to achieve His purpose. That means he can use sinful men to attain his goals. He can even use an abortion to attain his goals. Paul, in Romans 8:28 declares, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” “All things” includes both good and bad things.
So to sum up. I believe that God permits us to use preventative medicine. I believe that the evidence shows that most vaccines are effective, and the associated risks are very minimal. Preborn children are not currently being aborted to manufacture new MMR vaccines. It is estimated that rubella caused over half a million miscarriages worldwide in the year 2000. Measles may not be that deadly anymore, but I believe that God has given us the tools to fight disease, and vaccinations are one of those tools. Part of glorifying God is to obey his commands. I believe that I glorify God by taking care of my body, my children, and in vaccinating my children and myself. That is why I vaccinate.
Before you comment please read the entire article don’t just comment on my final paragraph! My views are not representative of the entire Reformed community. I welcome comments and differing opinions, but I will not permit negative comments. Thanks for reading!