Question: "How should a Christian view vaccinations/vaccines?"
Answer: As born-again believers, we are to be faithful stewards of all we receive (1 Corinthians 4:2), and, by implication, that includes our bodies. Therefore, as stewards of God’s provision of physical bodies, we are responsible for what we put into them, how we care for them, and how we use them. Scripture says nothing about vaccinations since they were not available when the Bible was written. As to how vaccines are produced and their possible side effects, that information is readily available, and anyone who is concerned about those issues should investigate. In fact, part of our stewardship is to investigate, make informed choices, and not take things for granted. With knowledge comes responsibility. Are vaccines totally without risk? No. Have vaccines been beneficial to the world? Yes, so there is definitely a case to be made for preventative medicine. The apostle Paul tells Timothy to “use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23); this is clearly an exhortation to take preventive medication.
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate should be an informed choice and not one made out of fear. In some places, children are not allowed into schools without what is considered proper vaccinations. Certain jobs require specific vaccinations. Another consideration is that there are examples of diseases once thought to be eradicated in one country being on the rise in that country; this could be from travelers bringing it in from other countries or lack of vaccination. Parents must consider the consequences of their child someday getting one of the diseases they were not immunized against. Adults should consider the personal consequences of getting or not getting a specific vaccine as well as the implications of their decision for others. Rarely do children or adults react with more than a mild fever and a sore leg or arm for a day or two, but severe reactions can and do occur. Vaccines have proven to be beneficial in many regards. Legitimate concerns have also been raised. For example, there has been a question about the link between vaccines and the presence of autism in children. Whether or not that will be proven is unknown, but the fact that the issue is shining light on vaccines is a good thing. The conversation over vaccines can result in people making more informed and proactive decisions about their health issues and those of their children.
VaccinePlace.com lists preventable diseases and long-term complications that can result from them. As in all things, prayer for wisdom is needed. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5; see also Proverbs 3:4-5). We are free to make any choice, but we are not free to exempt ourselves from the consequences of those choices. The apostle Paul stresses this in 1 Corinthians 6:11-12 and 10:23, where he tells us that all things are “lawful” for us but that not all things edify or build us up. Not all things are expedient or profitable, and we should not be under the power of anything outside of the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, it behooves us to make informed, prayerful choices and to make them without fear but with faith in the Lord.
Thoughts on the connection between vaccines and aborted fetal tissue (please see our article on abortion):
Some people worry about the fact that some vaccines are grown in cell cultures that were originally obtained from human fetuses. Viruses require a living host in which to grow, and vaccine manufacturers prefer human cells because some viruses can only grow in certain cells, and other viruses that occur in animal cells could harm people. Research is currently underway to develop molecular tools that will allow vaccine production without the use of live host cells. Currently, the human cell strains used to produce some vaccines can be maintained for long periods of time in a laboratory setting and can reliably support the growth of viruses that infect humans. Vaccines developed from these strains have been proven safe for humans. Two different strains of human diploid cell cultures made from fetuses have been used extensively for vaccine production for decades. WI-38 came from lung cells from a female fetus of 3-months gestation and MRC-5 was developed from lung cells from a 14-week-old male fetus. Both fetuses were intentionally aborted, but the cellular biologists who made the cell cultures did not induce the abortions. These two cell strains have been growing under laboratory conditions for more than 35 years. These cell cultures have been used to prepare hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines, preventing millions of cases of chicken pox, rubella, rabies, and hepatitis A.
Rubella virus typically causes a mild illness in most children, but it can severely damage the developing fetus of a pregnant woman who becomes infected. The virus that led to the only rubella vaccine available in the United States came from tissues obtained at the time of an abortion performed on a rubella virus-infected mother. The abortion was not conducted in order to isolate the virus, but rather because the mother and the fetus were infected with wild rubella virus that posed a risk of major birth defects. Since that wild strain of rubella virus (known as RA27/3) was isolated, it has been grown in the laboratory, with no need to obtain additional cells from aborted fetuses to sustain the supply of attenuated rubella viruses used to manufacture additional batches of rubella vaccine for the future.
Before widespread use of the rubella vaccine, there were hundreds of thousands of cases of rubella in the United States and more than 800 cases of congenital rubella per year. As a consequence of the rubella epidemic of 1963—1964, it is estimated that there were 20,000 infants born with congenital defects, 6,250 spontaneous abortions and 5,000 induced abortions due to severe birth defects. In 2001, the CDC reported just 3 babies born with congenital rubella syndrome. Thus, the RA27/3 rubella vaccine has prevented many thousands of spontaneous and induced abortions by protecting pregnant women from infection.
Christians should continue to encourage pharmaceutical companies to seek alternatives to the development of vaccines linked with human fetuses. However, in the absence of viable alternatives, these vaccines may be utilized to prevent not only serious risks to children but also as a public health measure to prevent the inadvertent spread of harmful viruses to pregnant women, with the consequent threat of birth defects and spontaneous miscarriages.