COVID-19 vaccine exemptions: Where do different religions stand on vaccinations?

Health

An Orthodox worshiper, wearing a mask for protection against the COVID-19 infection, prays during a religious service, on the first day of the Saint Dimitrie Basarabov pilgrimage in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

(WSYR) – As significant numbers of Americans seek religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates, many faith leaders are saying: Not with our endorsement.

Leaders of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said last week that while some people may have medical reasons for not receiving the vaccine, “there is no exemption in the Orthodox Church for Her faithful from any vaccination for religious reasons.”

What are other religious leaders saying about the COVID-19 vaccines?


Catholicism

The head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has urged people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and said that getting the shot is an “act of love”.

“Thanks to God’s grace and to the work of many, we now have vaccines to protect us from COVID-19,” the pope said in the video below. He continued on to say that vaccines “bring hope to end the pandemic, but only if they are available to all and if we collaborate with one another.”

Pope Francis received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine back in January, according to The Vatican.

There was some controversy as to whether the vaccines’ development made them morally permissible according to the church. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement clearing up the confusion:

Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from the body of an aborted baby at any level of design, development, or production. They are not completely free from any connection to abortion, however, as both Pfizer and Moderna made use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products. There is thus a connection, but it is relatively remote.

Some are asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching.

Most Reverend Kevin C. Rhoades, and Most Reverend Joseph F. Naumann

In March of 2021, the organization questioned the moral permissibility of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.[1] However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.  

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities

Judaism

Mitzvah is one of the Torah’s 613 Divine commandments; a good deed or religious precept, according to Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin. Rabbi Shurpin writes “guarding your own health doesn’t only make sense, it’s actually a mitzvah. That means that even if you don’t want to do it, for whatever reason, you are still obligated to do so.”

The three major branches of modern Judaism include Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative. Organizations and leaders across the three branches have released statements in support of vaccinations.

The Union for Reform Judaism adopted the Resolution on Mandatory Immunization laws in 2015. The resolution supports mandatory immunization laws and urges congregations to educate members on the “scientific evidence and Jewish values in support of mandatory vaccinations.”

The Orthodox Union also released a statement in support of COVID-19 vaccinations:


Islam

The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America said in a statement that there is no way to stop the pandemic besides reaching herd immunity. Herd immunity requires a certain percentage of a population have immunity to a virus. The AMJA says this can happen one of two ways:

  1. Allowing the infection to spread among the people without curtailing it
  2. Vaccinating people against the virus

The first way does not conform with the Sharia, because it risks the lives of people, particularly the weak, which is in direct conflict with the intent of the legislator with regard to preserving all human lives. …

The second way is through vaccination, which is congruent with the Sharia and reason.

AMJA Resident Fatwa Committee

Many Muslims who practice Islam avoid pork. The National Muslim COVID-19 Task Force shared in December 2020 that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines “contain fat, salts/buffer agents, and sugar (sucrose). The fat is not made from pork products.”


Buddhism

Buddhism has no central authority that determines doctrine, but the Dalai Lama received his COVID-19 vaccine in India in March.

After receiving his shot, the Dalai Lama said, “Those other patients also should take this injection for greater benefit,” calling the shot “very, very helpful”.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

The First Presidency, the governing body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, urged Latter-day Saints to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in August, saying, “To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.”


Christian Science

A small branch of Christianity, Christian Science released a statement on vaccinations and public health.

According to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, “One of the basic teachings of this denomination is that disease can be cured or prevented by focused prayer and members will often request exemptions when available. However, there are no strict rules against vaccination and members can receive required vaccinations.”

For more than a century, our denomination has counseled respect for public health authorities and conscientious obedience to the laws of the land, including those requiring vaccination. Christian Scientists report suspected communicable disease, obey quarantines, and strive to cooperate with measures considered necessary by public health officials. We see this as a matter of basic Golden Rule ethics and New Testament love. …

Most of our church members normally rely on prayer for healing. It’s a deeply considered spiritual practice and way of life that has meant a lot to us over the years. So we’ve appreciated vaccination exemptions and sought to use them conscientiously and responsibly, when they have been granted.

On the other hand, our practice isn’t a dogmatic thing. Church members are free to make their own choices on all life-decisions, in obedience to the law, including whether or not to vaccinate. These aren’t decisions imposed by their church.

A Christian Science perspective on vaccination and public health

Christianity

As there are many Christian denominations, not all were broken down in this article. According to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the following Christian denominations have no theological objection to vaccination:

  • Roman Catholicism
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Oriental Orthodox
  • Amish
  • Anglican
  • Baptist
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints​ (Mormon)
  • Congregational
  • Episcopalian
  • Jehovah’s Witness (Note: This denomination originally denounced vaccination, but revised this doctrine in 1952. An article in a recent issue of the church’s newsletter promotes vaccination to avoid infectious diseases.)
  • Lutheran
  • Mennonite
  • Methodist (including African Methodist Episcopal)
  • Quaker
  • Pentecostal
  • Presbyterian
  • Seventh-Day Adventist
  • Unitarian-Universalist

Vanderbilt University Medical Center says the following denominations do have a theological objection to vaccination:

  • Dutch Reformed Congregations – This denomination has a tradition of declining immunizations. Some members decline vaccination on the basis that it interferes with divine providence. However, others within the faith accept immunization as a gift from God to be used with gratitude.
  • Faith healing denominations including:
  • Faith Tabernacle
  • Church of the First Born
  • Faith Assembly
  • End Time Ministrie
  • Church of Christ, Scientist 

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