I was surprised that the discussion on my blog, Including People with Autism in Church Life, focused on whether or not children should be vaccinated. I should have seen that coming, because it’s hot topic, painfully hot.
In a recent conversation, a pastor friend told me that the topic of vaccinations was ripping at the unity of his church. Vaccinations! Parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated and parents who refuse to have their children at church with unvaccinated children have wrangled intensely with each other on Facebook and in the church parking lot. Similarly, the Christian Reformed Church’s Director of Ministry in Canada, Darren Roorda, told me that he has had people from four different churches contact him with similar concerns about tensions in their churches over the vaccination of children. It’s such a hot topic that last month Christianity Today included a cover article, Why Christians of All People Should Get Their Vaccines, and a brief piece, The 5 Most Common Anti-Vaccine Arguments.
I firmly believe that children should be vaccinated, unless they have compromised immune systems that could not handle a vaccination. Our oldest child has been medically fragile throughout her 27 years. Any of the diseases for which children get routinely vaccinated could kill her, and a large percentage of people need to be vaccinated for a group of people to have community immunity or herd immunity. Children with compromised immune systems who cannot be vaccinated are protected by the large numbers of other children who have been vaccinated. However, if they were exposed to measles, diphtheria, rubella, and many other diseases that vaccinations prevent, they could die. Many medically fragile children and adults are part of our churches too. Most of our world does not need to face the horrors of diseases that devastated populations in the past such as smallpox and polio. Without vaccinations, these devastating diseases will spread from a few isolated parts of the world back across the globe.
I believe that the arguments against childhood vaccinations pale in comparison to the arguments for them. Still, some parents refuse to have their children vaccinated, usually motivated by a deep love for their children and by a desire to protect them from danger. What can a pastor say that might help convince them to have their children vaccinated if the medical arguments do not move them? The subtitle of the Christianity Today cover article gives the answer, “For the love, folks.”
My pastor friend told me that he approached a number of couples who were refusing vaccinations for their children to ask them to reconsider. Some remained obstinate in their refusal, but one couple decided to have their kids vaccinated. They were swayed when their pastor appealed to their love for fellow church members. Their pastor explained that one child, in particular, would die if he caught any of the diseases prevented by vaccines. They told him that they had never thought of it that way before.
Have you been personally affected by tensions over vaccinations? What have you done? Has your church been dealing with tensions over vaccinations? How has the leadership handled it?
Update (December 3, 2015): I just came across this series of amazing data visualizations of the impact of vaccines on various diseases. It's stunning to see the positive impact that vaccines have had on public health.