Van Ens: Keep rolling up your sleeves
Americans reached a medical milestone after half of all adults in the U.S. received at least one COVID-19 vaccination, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 18. Uncle Sam and citizens joined forces, working together to reach goals that slowed the spread of COVID-19.
The result: a medical miracle because people rolled up their sleeves and were vaccinated.
Still, large segments of the U.S. population are wary of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination rates are lowest among Black populations. Some of these citizens harbor legitimate reservations caused by the government’s substandard medical care for them. Even worse, some Blacks in the past were treated like guinea pigs and mice in labs and given harmful treatments to see how they reacted to controversial remedies.
Moreover, some whites distrust government aid, dismissing it as “handouts.” Such reactions increase their hesitancy about getting vaccinated. The Associated Press reports: “A poll conducted in late March  found that 36% of Republicans said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, compared with 12% of Democrats.
“Similarly, a third of rural Americans said they were leaning against getting shots, while fewer than a fourth of people living in cities and suburbs shared that hesitancy (The Denver Post, “Half of Adults Receive First Shot, April 18, 2021, p. 8-A).
An effective antidote for curing skepticism about vaccinating comes from a robust, no-nonsense confidence in shots from leaders of groups who will not roll up their sleeves. Such leaders lean in against vaccination hesitancy by referring to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). Story-teller Jesus told how a traveler was left for dead alongside a road. Religious officials, preoccupied with their own safety, avoided this victim. A Samaritan, usually spurned by these religious authorities, practiced helping the helpless. He rescued the victim, took him to an inn to recuperate and paid this injured person’s bills.
Dr. Reed Tucson, co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID-19, repeats this story when an anti-vaxxer says he or she exercises personal liberties by not rolling up sleeves. Tucson treats as despicable such callous attitudes toward citizens who are first responders. “If you are a person who thinks that you have the right not to wear a mask, that philosophy cascades [and puts other citizens’ health in jeopardy]. Mask-less people are saying ‘I couldn’t give a darn about the cashier in the supermarket or the train driver, because I don’t care about anyone,’” says Dr. Tucson, who rejects this stock response. “I will go into a bar, [say vaccine deniers without masks] and I will do what I will do.”
Don’t personal liberties do more than define our health? They compassionately embrace the health of our neighbors, also.
Evangelicals such as Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse ministry of compassion, speak forcefully to their followers who dismiss most government help as an intrusion on their personal liberties.
On a Christian Broadcasting Network interview, Collins — himself a strong evangelical who is open to scientific advance — sounded like Jesus describing the Good Samaritan’s empathy. “This is a ‘love your neighbor’ moment,” confessed Collins, “where we all have a chance to do something not just for ourselves but for everybody around us.”
Graham, whose father Billy ranks as the 20th century’s most celebrated Christian evangelist, has been chided by conservatives who accuse him of being a turncoat. Prior to advocating mass vaccinations against COVID-19, Graham sided with Trump against Biden on whether government help crimps or enriches personal religious freedom.
Earlier this year, Graham stunned Trump’s evangelical loyalists. Repudiating antivaccination skeptics, he declared, “I have been asked my opinion about the [COVID-19] vaccine by the media and others. I have even been asked if Jesus were physically walking on earth now, would he be an advocate for vaccines.”
“My answer was that, based on the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible,” testified Graham, “I would have to say — yes, I think Jesus would advocate [rolling up your sleeves].”
Graham warned gullible evangelicals against foolishly accepting the internet’s vaccine conspiracy theories. Debunked unscientific lies say rolling up our sleeves unleash sinister forces such as:
- COVID-19 vaccines inject a microchip under the skin, allowing the government to spy on its citizens.
- Vaccines are not safe because they were developed at warp speed without adequate testing.
- A long quarantine acts like a safety net protecting you from the coronavirus.
- Former President Trump assured Americans we do not need to get a dose, even though he was vaccinated secretly, news recently revealed.
Such absurd conspiracy theories about vaccines, repeated enough, begin to sound somewhat reliable. When an anti-vaxxer skeptic looks for an excuse not to be vaccinated, any lie suffices.
Replace such skepticism with a dose of protection scientific medicine provides.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.