Tuesday, 07 December 2021

Jesus’ ministry was in large part about healing

- vaccines offer us a way to follow his example

It is almost now cliché to say that our lives changed forever when COVID-19 hit the UK in January 2020. Over the last year our lives have become about living through 'peaks', forming 'bubbles', and following mottos such as 'hands, face, and space'. As we enter a new national lockdown I wanted to take the opportunity to write, from my personal perspective, about how we can return to some semblance of normality, and follow Jesus' example of healing, through getting vaccinated when we are offered the opportunity to take it.

The development of vaccines to combat COVID-19 has been nothing short of a modern miracle. I remember when in 2002, a year since I travelled to Shanghai on a school exchange trip, SARs hit the headlines, and everyone feared that the new disease would spread throughout the world. Fortunately, on that occasion that virus did not develop into a pandemic, although it and its' later cousin MERs are still in limited circulation, even in the UK today. If it had developed into a situation like we are currently facing, then we would have perhaps had to wait a decade for a vaccine. Many people do not realise that the science behind vaccine development has increased rapidly in the last few years because of joint international efforts to combat other epidemics such as the Ebola, AIDS, and Malaria viruses. As such, vaccines to help prevent us getting sick from coronavirus have been able to be developed in record time, often with different parts of the process happening in parallel which would usually take a lot longer when done one after another, to speed the process up. Let me be clear, no corners have been cut, and the overwhelming evidence is that vaccines save us from preventable illness and death.

The development of vaccinations from 1796 heralded the end of much human suffering that mankind had experienced throughout history. It is hard to understand today, that as recently as the 1930s, epidemics and widescale death were commonplace in people's lives. The Spanish Flu of the post-First World War period caused more death and arguably misery than the First World War itself and is interestingly part of the reason that the NHS develops an annual flu jab to protect people from the deadliest flu strain each year. Undeniably, vaccines protect us from diseases which our ancestors would have suffered and died of routinely. The COVID-19 vaccines offer us protection from the latest of a long line of preventable disease.

Living in the Manse at Fetter Lane Congregation, I look out on the oldest Moravian burial ground in Britain. I often read the names on the gravestones, along with their ages and dates when they died and wonder if these people would have been alive for longer if science had progressed further in the time that they were alive. Particularly I think of Nunak, one of the Inuits who travelled with Moravian missionaries to England in 1787, but tragically died when he was just 18 years old of smallpox, which even though he was faithful - he had no immunity for, and tragically was still nine years away from a development of a vaccine which would have protected him from the disease.

Vaccines have become a topic where everyone seems to have an opinion on the effectiveness, politics, and risks of getting vaccinated, with many on social media, often accidently, sharing false information.

Many people, often while trying to do their best to make the right decisions for family members, have become concerned about the effects of vaccines on our loved ones. I would never want to belittle anyone who is genuinely trying to understand the risks of a medical procedure and is asking questions in a search for the truth.

What I would suggest is, much like our own faith has sources of truth, such as the guidance from the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and church tradition, the current conversation on vaccines has its own sources of truth which we can follow for better guidance on understanding the issues at hand. Truth can be found in the advice of the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which rigorously reviews all the evidence and tests before they approve a vaccine for use. Another good source is the BBC's series on understanding COVID-19 and the vaccine. These are all sources which use confirmed facts as the basis of their evaluation and advice, and most importantly do not have any vested interest in spinning a tale. Remember, anyone can express an opinion on social media, whether it is true or not, whereas the MHRA, BBC, and science-based research has to be rigorously questioned and proved before it can be published as truth to the public.

As I am a relatively young person in my 30s, I will not be offered the vaccine for a while, however as soon as I am offered it, I will take it! It will protect my loved ones and myself against the disease that has ravaged our world over the past year and allow us in time to return to normality again. This is the key point though. It only works if enough of us are vaccinated so the virus cannot take hold and pass from person to person. So, I implore you, to follow Jesus' example of both healing and being 'the truth' for both yourself and others.

steve maxwellBr Steve Maxwell, although writing in a personal capacity, currently works for the NHS in London's Emergency Planning, Resilience and Response team, and is husband to Sr Claire Maxwell, Minister of Fetter Lane Congregation.

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