In 1923, shortly after the 1918 flu pandemic, Frederick Grant Banting and John James Rickard Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of insulin. This was an amazing milestone, and since then insulin replacement and even supplementation have improved and saved countless lives. Until 1982 the only insulin available for use in humans was derived from the pancreas of either pigs or cows. In 1982, only one year after trials demonstrated its safety, bioengineered “human” insulin was introduced with great success into clinical practice in the treatment of diabetes. This insulin was produced using special (recombinant) DNA technology (developed in the late 1970s) spliced into E. coli bacteria. Artificial insulin continues to change lives for the better every day! It was produced, tested, and introduced over a very short time and continues to bring benefits today, amid yet another pandemic. This, and many breakthroughs in medicine and health, have been dependent on a careful study of physiology and related principles.
As Ellen G. White stated: “So closely is health related to our happiness, that we cannot have the latter without the former. A practical knowledge of the science of human life is necessary in order to glorify God in our bodies. It is therefore of the highest importance that among the studies selected for childhood, physiology should occupy the first place. How few know anything about the structure and functions of their own bodies and of nature’s laws! Many are drifting about without knowledge, like a ship at sea without compass or anchor; and what is more, they are not interested to learn how to keep their bodies in a healthy condition and prevent disease.”1
Why, then, the vexation about vaccination in so many quarters? Could it be that we need to have a more complete understanding of the underlying mechanisms of disease processes? Will not this knowledge, united to prevention, help us to avoid confusion and to make the best decisions on our health? Choose your health information sources carefully, then; check that they are consistent with biblical principles, consonant with the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy, and supported by peer-reviewed evidence-based health science. At times we listen to the outliers, and sometimes even to those sharing outright lies. We need to be well informed. This means using the most reliable sources. Counsel with a reputable well-trained health-care provider to learn what will work best in your situation.
Modern technology continues to change and modify our lives daily. The smartphone in your hand has many times the power, memory, and applications of some of the computers that helped astronauts reach the moon! Website cookies and cell phone apps that include user location information abound in our daily lives and routines. We are already tracked and traced, as it were, whether we like it or not—unless we refuse to use the devices and technologies on which our society and existence have become virtually dependent! It is sad that some are avoiding the benefit of protection offered by the vaccines for fear of being tagged by an electronic chip in the vaccine—a theory already shown to be a myth.
Most certainly not. We have reiterated time and again that healthful living is primary and of utmost importance. We have seen, however, that it is necessary to use all the preventive measures at our disposal to survive the pandemic, especially until community immunity is reached. Universal precautions such as social (physical) distancing, regular hand washing, mask wearing, and early testing as needed are essential. Immunization is an important preventive tool. Prior to the release of the COVID vaccines, we buried too many faithful and healthy-living Seventh-day Adventists. Even with the availability of vaccines, we continue to see deaths from COVID-19, especially and now almost exclusively in the nonvaccinated, and in younger people.
Many lives have been saved through the judicious use of vaccines. Adventists continue to advocate for vaccines to be produced ethically.
Some claim that “vaccines make those who take them unclean” because, supposedly, unclean substances are used to produce them. In this regard, it should be clarified that the abiding biblical instructions forbidding the consumption of unclean food and blood (Lev. 11:1-20; 17:11, 12; Acts 15:20) do not apply to vaccines for the obvious reason that vaccines are produced as medication to save lives, not to serve as food. We as a church have not opposed the use of essential medications such as animal-derived insulin in the past, nor the use of porcine tissue heart valves for curative heart surgery in human beings, as these interventions are lifesaving. Along with sanitation and clean water, over the years immunization has been proven to be lifesaving.
An often-asked question relates to fetal stem cell lines as used for culturing the viruses in the production of some vaccines. These fetal cells were harvested from two aborted fetuses in the early 1960s, and the same cells have been propagated using special processes to keep the supply available without having again to harvest fibroblast stem cells.2 This process was first used in the production of a vaccine against rubella; by 2005 rubella had been eliminated from the USA. Cell progeny from those original cells are still being used today. Retinal cells were harvested from an aborted fetus in 1985; cells from this source were used in the production of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
The Adventist Church does not condone abortion.3 Many lives have been saved through the judicious use of vaccines. Adventists continue to advocate for vaccines to be produced ethically. We also support the saving of life and maintenance of herd immunity through responsible vaccination practices. A huge price was paid in the early 1960s. Since then, many lives have been saved. Various religions such as Roman Catholicism and Judaism have registered their disapproval of the initial harvesting process but have encouraged the use of vaccines among their adherents to prevent illness and to save life. The Adventist Church has clearly articulated its biblical stance on abortion as noted; we also encourage responsible immunization to save life and prevent illness.
For decades I have traveled with a yellow fever certificate in my passport pack. Travelers who do not produce this document when requested are either injected or rejected. Why? So as not to spread a potentially lethal disease. As health-conscious Adventists we were delighted when smoking on aircraft was banned. I am thankful that Adventists such as Dr. Denis Baird were part of the advocacy group that successfully negotiated this change. The main argument? Secondhand smoke is dangerous to the health of those exposed. The almost universal enforcement of car safety belt use infringes on my personal choices; the evidence confirms, however, that many deaths are prevented, and injuries avoided, when safety belts are used. A similar argument holds for the use of helmets in bike riders. Why would these interventions be required? Frankly, to save us from ourselves.
What a disparate world we live in! During the pandemic some have the means to privately achieve lifelong aspirations of being astronauts and paying for space flights. Others in this world die isolated, untreated, and without options of protection. Some countries have the opportunity to choose a third shot, a booster dose of the vaccine, while many have not got their first, living in countri
es struggling to gain access to reliable vaccine supplies. And even when these are available, the necessary logistics and infrastructure facilitating distribution are difficult to put in place.
No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but they give significant protection. Do we regard complications lightly? We do not: we are committed to saving lives. The benefits of immunization far outweigh the risks (see Dr. Sloop’s article in this issue, pp. 34-36). Being vaccinated still remains your choice, in accordance with your own conscience. Vaccinated or not, always seek early medical advice if you test positive for COVID-19. Some ask, Why has the church not endorsed specific treatment regimens apart from preventive measures and responsible vaccination? It’s because this is the purview of the health-care provider in the specific clinical setting. We do not endorse or recommend specific medication regimens.
The vexation, vilification, and stigmatization among Christ’s followers must give way to respectful listening and hearing one another. Together we move forward in faith, “bearing with one another in love” and heeding heaven’s counsel: Make every effort “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2, 3).4
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.