Every time I hear or read about someone who is against vaccinations per se, a feeling of helplessness and sadness comes over me. What is it that makes people distrust vaccinations. Here are six possible reasons.

Reason #1 This generation has not seen the horrors of disease that past generations have

This article, ‘No concept of how awful it was . . . ‘ describes the phenomenon, and I can affirm the sentiment expressed. My generation saw the eradication of smallpox and polio in India. Those who survived smallpox were often left blind, but certainly scarred for life. The scarring from smallpox has to be seen to be believed. Till my teens I saw many blind people, mostly beggars with deeply scarred faces. Smallpox was eradicated in India in the late 1970s shortly after the epidemic of 1974.

A common sight when I was growing up

My father’s generation experienced the heartbreak of losing siblings to dreadful diseases. But my generation, with access to antibiotics and vaccinations, were spared, but we saw the evidence of how disease once ravaged the population. We saw the scarred faces of blind beggars and we saw severe crippling due to polio.

We were the generation that was vaccinated regularly for typhoid and cholera; it was called T.A.B.C. And we were regularly inoculated against smallpox. We would be lined up in school for these pricks and cuts. Although unpleasant, these measures by the government paid off.

When I see adults today, belonging to the next generation, who do not value vaccinations, I realise that we have done a poor job of sharing our experiences. Young parents today have not seen the sights that instilled fear and awareness in us. Naturally, their children are not as protected against diseases as they could be. The danger is that some of these diseases can make a comeback, and we could lose all that so many strove hard to achieve.

Reason #2 The quality of science education seems to have declined

Students graduating high school do not seem to have a basic foundation in physics, chemistry, and biology. This is compounded by a confusion over what constitutes ‘science.’ All manner of subjects, often controversial, are classified under the broad banner of “science.” Ridden with subjectivity and with statistical data being twisted to suit political agendas, the word ‘science’ has lost the authority it once commanded. This is a tragedy on many counts.

Science is the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena. As a person of faith, I find the idea of studying the work of God’s hand in nature to be a most noble undertaking. Science has also given us an invaluable corpus of human knowledge. To be disdainful and skeptical of all things ‘science’ is to throw the baby away with the bathwater.

In the context of vaccinations, I remember learning in school about the English physician and scientist Edward Jenner who pioneered the concept of vaccines including creating the world’s first vaccine, which was for small pox. When we say that he created the vaccine, it is not to say that it was not practiced elsewhere before that, but it was Jennings who conferred scientific status on the procedure, and it came to become a subject for scientific investigation. The science behind vaccinations is settled—that introducing a pathogen or an antigen into the body can stimulate the production of antibodies against the disease. If someone were to tell me that they do not believe this, I am at a loss as to how to respond, other than to feel sad.

It is the same when people so easily criticise Allopathic medicine. Allopathic medicine (Western medicine) is unparalleled in the areas of diagnostics and testing. Other schools of medicine may have their benefits in some cases. I am a big fan of some Ayurvedic medicines myself, but the respect a doctor of Allopathic medicine commands is different, and is earned after many years of systematic study in medical school followed by constant updating of one’s skills and knowledge. Sadly this respect is steadily being eroded because of the gradual decline of knowledge, which could be because of insufficient formal learning of science in school, which in turn leaves people defenseless when faced with misinformation.

Reason #3 Conspiracy theories

Because of Reasons #1 and #2, many are sitting ducks in these days when conspiracy theories rage.

It is beyond the purview of this post to go into all the conspiracy theories, but here is an article that might be helpful. Microchips, Magnets And Shedding: Here Are 5 (Debunked) Covid Vaccine Conspiracy Theories Spreading Online. Some have even refused to believe that Covid-19 exists, leave alone that a virus is behind it.

Reason #4 Irresponsible medical papers

Some people believe that vaccines cause autism. This is because, some decades ago, the British medical journal, the Lancet, published a paper stating that the MMR vaccine, against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella, caused autism in children. This caused a decline in vaccination, as a result of which incidence of these diseases soared.

This connection between autism and the MMR vaccine was proved false. The age when Regressive Autism is usually discovered in children is also the age when the MMR vaccine is given to children—between 15 and 24 months—which makes this an unfortunate coincidence in the lives of children with autism. The damage was done, and although the Lancet retracted the paper, some people are unable to let go of the idea. In fact some believe that all vaccines, not just MMR, can cause autism.

You may also find the article Do Vaccines Cause Autism? helpful; it is published by historyofvaccines.org, which is an award-winning informational, educational website created by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Reason #5 The Risks

To complicate matters further, vaccines come with their risks. Real risks. We are being told that a rare type of blood clot is connected with both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Johnson and Johnson coronavirus vaccines. With the Pfizer vaccination being offered in New Zealand, we do not have that issue. Even so, a handful of people have had adverse reactions to the vaccine.

Am I saying that we must get vaccinated without considering the risks? No. One needs to weigh the potential risks of vaccines against the benefits. A small number of people may die in New Zealand, because of the Pfizer vaccine, but a much larger number will die when a population is not vaccinated, should the virus get a hold here.

Reason #6 The Ethical Concerns

Ethical concerns are paramount. A common notion is that foetal tissue from abortions are routinely collected and used for making vaccines. For us to be complicit in the death of an infant is sinful. But will we be complicit by getting vaccinated? I do not think so.

When speaking about foetal tissue and vaccines, we need to understand what cell lines are. These are cells that are cloned or grown in the laboratory and used in various kinds of medical research. HEK 293 is the cell line that has been used in the testing of COVID-19 vaccines. The original cells of this cell line were taken in 1972 from the kidney of a single foetus. HEK stands for Human Embroyonic Kidney. It is not known if the foetus was miscarried or was aborted, but this baby had died about a decade before in the 1960s. In any case, the baby was not aborted for the purpose of harvesting these cells. These cells, cultured in the laboratory, have multiplied and grown ever since, lending themselves to innumerable research projects.

If foetal tissue was used directly in vaccines, it would be wrong. But when we talk about a historic cell line like HEK 293, it does not seem wrong to me, for the following reasons:

  1. The baby was not aborted for the purpose of medical research or making vaccines. But in death, this baby has blessed the world.
  2. Cell lines are difficult to achieve because no one knows the exact nutrients the cells need to achieve this. So when a cell line is developed, these “immortalised” cells are a priceless commodity. Human cell lines are rare. Other than HEK 293, the HeLa line from 1951 is also very useful. This was not foetal in origin but are cervical cancer cells from a woman called Henrietta Lacks. Human cell lines are much more effective than animal cell lines for certain things. But animal cell lines are also used. For example, measles vaccine is grown in chick embryo cells and polio vaccines are grown in a mouse cell line.
  3. This baby died in the Netherlands in the 1960s, which was about 60 years ago, and the cell line was developed in 1972. As Al Mohler says: “The further you go in history, the harder it is to keep a clear line of culpability in morally significant events.”
  4. No foetal cells of any kind were involved in the manufacture of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Some of the HEK-293 cells may have been used in testing the vaccine, but they are not present in the vaccine itself.

I hope that this post will be helpful to clear the work bench of unnecessary issues and allow us to see the main issues. May God help us to make informed decisions, with a clear conscience.