I am Here Because of the Vaccine

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, July 29, 2021

I am Here Because of the Vaccine

 In last week’s letter I suggested that we might gain new appreciation for the biblical/theological word “saved” by replacing it with a word that carries less theological baggage, “safe.” In that vein, the first “Great End” of the church (Book of Order F-1.0304) might be recast, “Proclamation of the Gospel for the safety of humankind.”

Safety. It is the most important thing the Good Shepherd provides for the sheep. As a minister of this good news and under-shepherd of God’s flock, I offer what follows below as a Gospel call to safety. Unlike my usual letter to presbytery, today’s is a deeply personal reflection.

We face an emerging new wave of COVID cases, almost entirely among the unvaccinated. Due to my experience detailed below, I find refusal to be vaccinated – except due to valid personal medical complications – profoundly troubling. Church leaders who proclaim the “good news” ought to communicate the urgent need for everyone who can do so to be vaccinated.

This letter has been sitting on my desk for some time. I have hesitated to share it because I feel like I’d be preaching to the choir. Most of my direct audience has already been glad to receive the COVID vaccine. But perhaps my story can help encourage or even make a difference for some.

One night when I was seven years old, I went to bed feeling fine, and the next morning I could not move. I was taken to hospital and diagnosed with polio. The hospital released me when I was again able to move, even though I was far from fully recovered.

Over the following months I was home-schooled, with my parents shuffling books and papers between school and our home. Once I was able to get on my feet, I was bent to one side and my reflexes were dead. I fell often. It was dangerous for me to leave our home. Then one day, against all medical expectations, I suddenly straightened up and my reflex functions returned. We believed God had answered the fervent prayers of many in restoring my health, and our doctor did not contest that explanation.

But one thing the doctor did say – had I not been vaccinated for polio, my case would either have been fatal, or left me debilitated for a lifetime. My infection was severe.

In 1952, polio made nearly 60,000 people in the U.S. sick, many of whom were crippled or paralyzed, and claimed more than 3,000 lives. Like COVID, some who were infected with the polio virus never knew it; but for those who became symptomatic, the consequences were often devastating.

The new polio vaccine is what kept my polio from being a life or even death sentence. I thank God that what Jonas Salk developed in Pittsburgh in 1954 made it to Alberta quickly enough that I could be at least somewhat protected. And I thank God that my parents were not part of that cadre of folk who refused to vaccinate their children.

Today we face a similar challenge. The COVID vaccine cannot prevent all cases of COVID, though it does prevent the majority. For the fully vaccinated who still get sick, the difference vaccination makes is nearly always between living and dying, between a passing illness and a lifetime struggle. Some may still die. That happened with polio. But for the vast majority, the polio vaccination was the difference between life and death.

Despite its wide availability, many people resist receiving the COVID vaccine, for many reasons. The only way we beat polio in North America was through near-universal vaccination. From the time of the vaccine’s launch in 1955, according to the Centers for Disease Control, it took 34 years before polio was eradicated in the U.S., because it took that long for enough of the population to accept vaccination.

We can defeat the spread of COVID, but it will require a vaccination effort for all, not just for some. Children will need to be vaccinated when it is deemed safe for them. Every adult for whom it is safe needs to be vaccinated. Otherwise, COVID and its variants will continue in the years ahead to take lives.

Most people who contract COVID recover. But are we willing to accept the life-ending or life-altering effects of COVID for some of us as acceptable collateral damage for the right of exercising our freedom to decline vaccination?

Of course, we should seek to protect our own lives. But that ought not be the foremost issue for Christians, who are called to follow their Lord in being more concerned about others than about themselves. If we want the COVID scourge to end, we must be vaccinated for the sake of the health of others – especially our children and those who cannot be vaccinated for good medical reasons.

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

Seeking wholeness for all,

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