/ Sound Medicine / Richard Holdeman

Listening to the Data

The unprecedented development of multiple vaccines for COVID-19 in a matter of months has raised alarm bells for many people who fear that vaccine developers have sacrificed safety for speed.  What most people do not realize is that the technology behind the Moderna and Pfizer “mRNA vaccines” has been in development for many years.  It is altogether wise for Christians to think soberly about getting these vaccines.  The best way to evaluate the safety and usefulness of the vaccines is to examine the data to the extent that we can.  Anecdotes and speculative theories are not helpful.  Although there are narratives being circulated that purport to reveal the dangers of the vaccines, we do not have to rely on semi-plausible stories about the vaccines when we have data.

Both mRNA vaccine candidates began Phase 3 trials over the summer.  Over 30,000 people received one or the other of these vaccines.  The results were impressive – both in terms of safety and efficacy (around 95%).  You can read more about the development, science, safety, and ethics of these vaccines in a recent article I wrote for the RP Witness (here).  Although we do not have data over a long period of time, we do have a significant amount of data.  What has happened in the ensuing month has greatly expanded our dataset.

Since these vaccines were approved in various countries in December-January 2020-21, nearly 65 million people worldwide and 20 million in the US have received one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.  6.75 million people worldwide and 3.5 million people in the US are now fully vaccinated, having received the additional booster shot (Our World in Data).   With well-over 70 million vaccines given around the world so far, claims that mRNA vaccines in general or these vaccine in particular are unsafe can be evaluated.  At this point, except for some rare, allergic reactions, we have not seen any widespread dangerous side-effects from the vaccines.  If the vaccines were consistently harming people, we would expect to see clear evidence to that effect given the high number of vaccines administered, but we don’t.

As an interesting test case, the nation of Israel has the highest rates of COVID vaccination in the world with over 32% of the population having received one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and nearly 17% of the population having been fully vaccinated (Our World in Data).  Preliminary observations in Israel suggest that even one dose of the vaccine is highly effective, but more analysis will need to be done to understand the true impact as more people are vaccinated (New York Times).

It appears that God has provided a safe and effective means of protecting our health through the efforts of men and women pursuing the “dominion mandate” to “subdue the earth” (Genesis 1:28).  As John Calvin encourages us in his Institutes, “… the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts.  If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it where it shall appear unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.”  

That is to say, that whether a discovery is made by believers or unbelievers, if it is true and good, we ought to receive it with thanksgiving to God.  After all, we are reminded in Scripture that God causes, “His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45).  God’s common grace works through all sorts of people to bless His children.  Of course, as more data on these vaccines (as well as others that will be approved in the future) is collected, we should continue to monitor it – even as we put our ultimate hope in the Lord (Psalm 146).

Richard Holdeman

Richard Holdeman

Called to faith in 1987; to marry Amy in 1989; to coach college hockey in 1992; to have daughters in 1996; to teach at I.U. in 1997; to pastor the Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church in 2005.

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