To be or not to be, that is the question—a line from what is probably the most famous monologue of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Quite possibly the most famous soliloquy—an erudite way of saying speech—in English literature.
Someone has noted that the twenty-first-century parallel to Shakespeare’s illustrious words is To code or not to code, that is the challenge. Yet in 2021—more than 400 years from Shakespeare’s times—the most agonizing conversation people seem to be having with themselves and others in the middle of an atrocious world pandemic is To get vaccinated or not, that is the question. More than a year since the discovery of SARS-CoV-2—the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19—the world has experienced in excess of 3 million deaths globally, and close to 600,000 deaths in the United States. Still, there is apparently no end in sight for many countries—even among the most advanced economies—despite the arrival of several vaccines claiming to be our way back to some semblance of the normalcy we were experiencing in the prepandemic world.
To be sure, COVID-19 vaccines are a hot topic of conversation these days. Particularly fascinating is watching and listening to the different opinions about the virtues or disadvantages of getting or not getting a vaccine. An apparent reason the competing voices are so many and so loud may have to do—in part—with the wonder, spectacle, and sensation that vaccines were produced so quickly and effectively or not, depending on who’s talking or doing the analysis.
In the United States, President Joe Biden, soon after he came into office on January 20, 2021, announced his plan to vaccinate 1 million persons per day in the first 100 days of his presidential term. Then on April 21, 2021, he stated that the nation was headed for administering 200 million COVID-19 vaccines by his ninety-second day in office—double his initial promise and in a shorter time. The president exhorted employers across the country to offer paid time off for their workers to get their vaccines as part of the effort to increase vaccination rates. As vaccination rates quickened during subsequent weeks, and with the availability of vaccines beginning to be higher than the demand, the president announced new tax incentives for small- and medium-sized businesses to offer time off from work so their employees might receive their vaccinations and be able to recover, in the event of any side effects from the vaccinations.1
Somewhat paradoxically, demand for COVID-19 vaccines started declining, despite the fact that every American adult was now eligible to get one, and at a time when half of all eligible Americans had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.
We feel much better having taken the vaccine than if we were still waiting to get one.
On top of these factors vaccine hesitancy, a reluctance to take the vaccine, was observed, mostly in states in the Deep South. Besides such reservation, millions of Americans chose not to sign up to get their vaccines for a number of other reasons, including not caring for the trouble of finding an appointment online, or preferring to wait for additional research findings on the long-term side effects of the vaccines.2
The irony of living on Planet Earth is that while one group of people debates whether or not to avail themselves of a product or services that may enhance, protect or prolong life, another group is without access or has limited access to the same or similar goods. Such has been the case with vaccines during this global pandemic. Worthy of note is that as of February 19, 2021, about 90 countries had access to at least one COVID-19 vaccine. At that point 10 countries that make up 60 percent of the global gross domestic product had dispensed 75 percent of all COVID-19 vaccines. At the same time, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization director-general, and Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, informed that some 130 countries, with a total population of 2.5 billion, were yet to give out a single dose.3
Anyone wondering what the official position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church might be on vaccines in general, and COVID-19 vaccines specifically, may take note of an article in the December 18, 2020, edition of the Adventist Review entitled “COVID-19 Vaccines: Addressing Concerns, Offering Counsel.”4 The church’s official declaration on immunization “places strong emphasis on health and well-being. The Adventist health emphasis is based on biblical revelation, the inspired writings of E. G. White (cofounder of the church), and on peer-reviewed scientific literature.” A “responsible” attitude to immunization/vaccination is urged, advising that “no religious or faith-based reason” exists for avoiding “protective and preventive immunization programs.” The statement goes on to emphasize both the importance of community health and of individual conscience: “We value the health and safety of the population, which includes the maintenance of ‘herd immunity.’ We are not the conscience of the individual church member, and recognize individual choices. These are exercised by the individual. The choice not to be immunized is not and should not be seen as dogma nor the doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”5
Despite the continuing research of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States, and despite the church’s clear counsel on the issue of vaccines in general and COVID-19 vaccines in particular, zealous monologues, passionate speeches, and energetic, fervent, and furious diatribes continue to be heard against vaccination. The CDC response to questions on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines is firm: “Millions of people have safely received a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 52 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through February 14, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective” (April 13, 2021).6
And to a question, specifically about how effective the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is, the CDC replied: “Based on evidence from clinical trials, the Moderna vaccine was 94.1 percent effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people who received two doses who had no evidence on being previously infected” (April 5, 2021).7
For ourselves, we willingly share our personal testimony in relation to the questions in our title Question 1: “Vaccinated yet?” We answer, “Yes!” We both received our second dose of the Moderna vaccine in mid-February 2021, and except for mild flulike symptoms experienced by Elaine for about half a day after the booster shot, we experienced no signs of maladies and have remained COVID-19 free.
To the second question posed by our title, “So what?” our answer is that we feel much better having taken the vaccine than if we were still waiting to get one. What’s even better is that for the first time in more than a year we have been able to join loved ones, also vaccinated, for brunch at a favorite restaurant, and to exchange those warm hugs we had gone without for more than a year.
As the pandemic continues, we earnestly pray for greater compassion from the international community, especially the world’s strongest economies, toward countries with much weaker economies and capacity to acquire vaccines for their populations. Our prayers will also continue to ascend to God for His providential intervention.
Living in the United States where millions in the population have still not received a vaccine, we continue to
follow the best scientific advice on mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing. We will also persist in other practices that are always good: eating healthy foods, drinking lots of water, exercising regularly, communing with God daily, and aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. In addition, we will go on being fortified every day by ideal counsel from Scripture: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6, 7, NIV).
Willie Oliver, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, family sociologist, and certified family life educator, directs the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. Elaine Oliver, a licensed clinical professional counselor, educational psychologist, and certified family life educator, is associate director.