You need to be prepared for the coming debates that will affect your churches and communities. Just as states and localities have vaccination requirements for entry to daycares and public schools, we may soon see COVID vaccines required to engage in many areas of community life—perhaps even in churches. Discussions about such mandates should be rooted in neighbor love (Mark 12:31) and wisdom (Prov. 4:7).
What just happened?
Within the past week, two pharmaceutical companies—Pfizer and Moderna—have submitted applications to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory agencies around the world for use and distribution of their COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.
Pfizer says it can produce globally up to 50 million doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021, and that it will be ready to distribute the vaccine within hours after authorization. By the end of 2020, Moderna also expects to have approximately 20 million doses of their vaccine available in the United States and are expected to manufacture 500 million to 1 billion doses globally in 2021.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines reduce the risk of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defenses to build protection. Essentially, vaccines work because God has designed our bodies to not only fight against invasive germs, but to remember them—and remember how to destroy them.
When you get a vaccine, your immune system responds by (1) recognizing the invading germ (virus, bacteria, and so on), (2) producing antibodies (i.e., proteins produced naturally by the immune system to fight disease), and (3) remembering the disease and how to fight it when exposed in the future.
A vaccine safely introduces the “invading germ” in one of three ways. The first approach is to “inactivate” the virus so that its major components still work but won’t cause infection. This is how polio, hepatitis A, and influenza (injected version) works. The second approach is to use a weakened strain of the virus that, while technically still alive, isn’t strong enough to cause harm. This is called an attenuated vaccine, and it’s how both the measles, one shingles vaccine (Shingrix®), and the human papillomavirus (HPV) work. The third approach is to use specific components of the virus’s genetic sequence, instead of the virus itself. This is how mRNA vaccines work.
How does an mRNA vaccine work specifically?
As stated above, most vaccines use inactivated or weakened versions or components of the disease-causing pathogen to stimulate the body’s immune response to create antibodies. Vaccines that use mRNA, though, take a different approach. As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explains, mRNA vaccines take advantage of the process that cells use to make proteins in order to trigger an immune response and build immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
With mRNA vaccines, so named for the strands of genetic material, mRNA is inside a special coating that protects it from enzymes in the body that would otherwise break it down (contrary to some misconceptions, mRNA vaccines do not enter the cell’s nucleus, so it cannot “change a person’s DNA” or genetic code).
The mRNA is essentially an instruction for the cell on how to make a harmless piece of the “spike protein” that is unique to SARS-CoV-2. Since only part of the protein is made, it does not harm the person vaccinated. After the piece of the spike protein is made, the cell breaks down the mRNA strand and disposes it using enzymes in the cell. Once displayed on the cell surface, the protein causes the immune system to begin producing antibodies and activating T-cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection. These antibodies are specific to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which means the immune system is primed to protect against future infection.
As with all vaccines, the benefit of mRNA vaccines is that those vaccinated gain this protection against a virus without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.
Will an mRNA vaccine make me sick or cause me to get COVID-19?
No, because the vaccine is not infectious (i.e., does not use an inactivated or weakened version of the virus) there is no chance it will cause you to get COVID-19.
Are the vaccines safe?
The COVID-19 vaccines were tested in large clinical trials to ensure they meet safety standards. Tens of thousands of people were recruited to participate in these trials to determine how the vaccines offer protection to people of different ages, races, ethnicities, and health.
A clinical trial includes three phases. According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), in Phase 1 the vaccine is given to a small number of generally healthy people to assess its safety at increasing doses and to gain early information about how well the vaccine works to induce an immune response in people. Phase 2 studies include more people, where various dosages are tested on hundreds of people with typically varying health statuses and from different demographic groups, in randomized-controlled studies. These studies provide additional safety information on common short-term side effects and risks, examine the relationship between the dose administered and the immune response, and may provide initial information regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine. In Phase 3, the vaccine is administered to thousands of people in randomized, controlled studies involving broad demographic groups (i.e., the population intended for use of the vaccine) and generates critical information on effectiveness and additional important safety data. This phase provides additional information about the immune response in people who receive the vaccine compared to those who receive a control, such as a placebo.
Are fetal cells being used in COVID-19 vaccines and treatments?
The short answer is “no.” A longer answer can be found in this article.