Exemptions to COVID Vaccines for Orthodox Christians

Originally appeared at: Orthodox Reflections

Even though coronavirus vaccines have only recently been rolled out, there is already serious talk of ways to force the reluctant to get vaccinated. The head of LA county schools has flatly stated that when possible, students must be vaccinated to attend class. The EU is discussing restricting the travel of those who have not been vaccinated. Airlines are openly discussing requiring a vaccine to fly. The UK has floated the idea of restricting the rights of non-vaccinated persons to fully participate in society. Private employers are discussing requiring a vaccine just to work. Imagine having to prove your vaccine status to go on vacation, attend a concert, go out to eat, or even earn a living.

All of that is in addition to various governments discussing making vaccination outright mandatory under penalty of law.

Even if you plan to be vaccinated, coercing other individuals into submitting involuntarily to a medical procedure is completely immoral. The only ethical stance, especially for an Orthodox Christian, is to support voluntary informed consent. (Please click here to read about and sign a petition supporting an end to restrictions on Orthodox worship and in support of voluntary informed vaccine consent.)

Many are concerned about the safety of the vaccines. That is certainly warranted given how little we know about the potential long-term effects, and the fact that initial results are definitely not reassuring. Right now, reported deaths per dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are running at 85x per dose of flu vaccine, and ER trips are at 35x. Those statistics are in the US, where priority has largely been given to younger, healthier medical workers. So the numbers could go substantially higher when the elderly are receiving the bulk of the doses.

If you want to avoid the vaccine, we have some suggestions below. Keep in mind, you are playing for time. If the vaccines continue to cause severe reactions at a high rate, then no amount of Big Pharma effort will keep that quiet forever. If, on the other hand, they turn out to be safe and effective after all, there is plenty of time to take one later if your conscience allows. (We don’t believe an Orthodox Christian should receive either of the two most common vaccines for moral reasons, but you have a spiritual father and a conscience to help with that decision.)

If you are concerned about taking a vaccine, and are facing some kind of mandate that requires vaccination, then below are two suggestions for getting an exemption – medical and religious.

Medical Exemption

Please consult a physician if seeking a medical exemption from vaccination. The following information is intended solely to guide your preparation for a medical consultation.

Below is a list from the FDA (download the PDF here) that illustrates the potential side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines which are of concern:

If you have any condition(s) on that list, or are at risk for any condition(s) on that list, then you could have a medical reason to avoid vaccination. Pay particular attention to any autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid arthritis, and/or any conditions you may have related to inflammation. If you already have either, then one of these vaccines could make your condition worse.

If you have ever had a severe vaccine reaction, anaphylactic shock from any cause (food or medicine), or even severe allergies from any cause, you could qualify for an exemption. In California, state health leaders just stopped using a batch of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines after allergic reactions at a San Diego vaccination site. This follows other documented problems with anaphylaxis elsewhere. As a known problem, this could be a good path to exemption if you are at risk.

Ironically, given that COVID is almost exclusively a serious problem for those over 70 with comorbidities, the vaccines could be especially dangerous for the elderly. In Norway, a rash of deaths in care homes has resulted in a warning that side effects of the vaccines can be lethal for frail, elderly people. If you fall into that category, or have a loved one that does, and are concerned about vaccination, consider consulting a physician about a possible health exemption based on age and physical condition.

A safety guide to the vaccine produced by the UK government warns that pregnant or lactating women should avoid vaccination, and that pregnancy should be avoided for at least two months after the second dose. The guide also says, “It is unknown whether COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine BNT162b2 has an impact on fertility.” If you are female and you plan to become a mother, you can potentially use the prospect of a pregnancy in the near term, an existing pregnancy, or ongoing lactation as valid medical reasons to seek an exemption.

Remember, seek medical guidance from a trusted physician before seeking a medical exemption to make sure you have his/her support.

Religious Exemption

As an Orthodox Christian, you qualify for a religious exemption to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. (Assuming the law / regulations where you are recognize freedom of religion. If not, a medical exemption is a good back-up plan.) Be careful here, as using the wrong terminology can get you into an argument you might lose. In the case of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, production of the vaccines was believed to have used cells that originated with an abortion. The cells, referred to as HEK 293s, were originally gleaned from a 1973 abortion in the Netherlands, and have since been reproduced in labs for various research purposes. If you attempt to use a religious exemption, you might be told that “a fetal cell line is not the same as fetal tissue.” Technically, that is correct – the vaccines do not use “fetal tissue” or “aborted tissue” or “baby tissue.”

So you may be told that there is a moral distinction between reproduced fetal cell lines and fetal tissue. You may even run up against quotes from Orthodox sources (scientists, theologians, priests, bishops) making the case that the remoteness of the connection to the abortion, and the perceived “greater good,” mean that Orthodox Christians can, in good conscience, take one of these vaccines.

For an example of an Orthodox scientist, and trained Theologian, who supports use of such cell lines for vaccination production, please see this article:

American Orthodox Bioethics Professor Wrong on COVID-19 Vaccine

The pro-vaccine opinions of these “Orthodox” individuals do not represent the universal opinion of the Orthodox Church. No matter how far in the past, the cells in question were derived from an abortion and are human cells. As Orthodox Christians, we are absolutely opposed to abortion and cannot, in good conscience, participate in the use of any cells or any organs that originated in this way. Good quotes on the position of the Church come to you below by way of an Orthodox blogger named JY Lewis:

The Church remains loyal to the state, but God’s commandment to fulfill the task of salvation in any situation and under any circumstances is above this loyalty.

If the authority forces Orthodox believers to apostatize from Christ and His Church and to commit sinful and spiritually harmful actions, the Church should refuse to obey the state.

The Church believes it to be definitely inadmissible to use the methods of so-called fetal therapy, in which the human fetus on various stages of development is aborted and used in attempts to treat various diseases and to “rejuvenate” an organism. Denouncing abortion as a cardinal sin, the Church cannot find any justification for it either even if someone may possibly benefit from the destruction of a conceived human life. Contributing inevitably to ever wider spread and commercialization of abortion, this practice (even if still hypothetical effectiveness could be proved scientifically) presents an example of glaring immorality and is criminal.”

This exemption does not work for all vaccines, as not all of them use cells originally derived from an abortion. If you choose to seek a religious exemption for one that does, we recommend putting emphasis on the following points:

  • A connection to an abortion exists, no matter how far in the past
  • Abortion and the use of fetal cells derived from abortion are repugnant to Orthodox Christians and contrary to clear teachings of the Orthodox Church
  • These vaccines were developed and produced using human cells (lab cultivation of the particular cells used makes no moral difference)
  • Your spiritual guidance in the Orthodox Church does not accept any of the arguments in favor of taking such a vaccine (You may be confronted with quotes from “Orthodox” sources supporting the vaccines. You need to ready. Make sure your actual spiritual father supports you on this before you need him.)
  • As an Orthodox Christian, you must respect the laws of God over the laws of men. To do otherwise is a grave sin.

There May Still Be Consequences

Using one or both of these exemptions may keep you, or your children, from having to get one of these vaccines under certain circumstances. However, having the right to remain unvaccinated may not prevent all forms of discrimination. You may lose some of your rights, including the right to travel freely. There may be no getting around that, but as we noted, you are playing for time and who knows how things will go over the next few years.

There is a lot of anxiety surrounding us in these dark times, but our hope is in God and not worldly things. We would like to leave you with the encouragement of  St. Paisios the Athonite:

“The answer to our anxiety is not drugs, alcohol, tranquilizers or psychiatric treatment. It will not be cured by Yoga, or some eastern meditation practice. The problem is that we have lost God at the center of our lives. Once we make our love for God the primary focus of our lives, and allow His Grace to work through us, then we will be comforted and embraced in His love — no matter what circumstance we encounter in life. All anxiety disappears. This is the aim of the Orthodox way of life: to put God first and seek the Holy Spirit. The anxieties of modern life are only symptoms of our separation from God.”

Irene, member of the Greek Archdiocese and health care professional with over 20 years experience in practice and clinical education

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