COVID-19 vaccines are a gift from God and an answer to prayer, one of the nation’s top health authorities told Baptist News Global in an exclusive interview July 22.
“Give God the glory but roll up your sleeve,” said Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who heads the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
It is not enough for Christians to say they trust God to deliver them or to pray for God’s protection from illness when they are unwilling to partake of the means of protection God has made available, he said.
This is an especially urgent message today, as 99.5% of the people who are dying now of COVID-19 are unvaccinated. And it’s an urgent message for young adults who think they are invincible to coronavirus.
“Many of them have heard that they’re basically immune to any consequences of this virus,” Collins said. “They should make a visit to the ICUs in Missouri where the people in the ICU, many of them are under 40. … This is not a disease that ignores anybody. You can still get extremely sick and die. We’ve lost more than 300 children who died. And more adolescents.”
“They should make a visit to the ICUs in Missouri where the people in the ICU, many of them are under 40.”
And younger adults also should consider the risks of experiencing what’s come to be known as long-haul COVID, he added. These months-long cases, which include “many young people,” are “very disruptive to your life. You don’t want that. That is something you ought to think about.”
‘A lot of prayer’
As someone who was intricately involved in developing and testing the vaccines currently in use in the United States, Collins said, “A lot of science went into this, but a lot of prayer too. It does feel like those prayers were answered.
“This feels like a gift from God, but you do have to unwrap that gift,” he advised.
Collins, who previously headed the National Human Genome Research Institute and is credited with discovering the genes associated with a number of diseases, said he is perplexed by people of faith — a label he proudly applies to himself — who are unwilling to do their part to put an end to COVID-19 by being vaccinated.
The physician-geneticist said he knows many people of faith have earnestly prayed for an end to the current pandemic, and he believes wholeheartedly that God-inspired scientists have provided an answer to that prayer. “How does God answer our prayers? Often it is through giving the opportunity for others to come to our rescue. And that’s what God is doing here.”
“This feels like a gift from God, but you do have to unwrap that gift.”
As one of the nation’s top medical advisers, Collins understands some Americans have legitimate concerns about vaccination. He’s heard them all. And he has well-educated answers for them all.
- Can a COVID vaccine create fertility problems in women? “No.”
- Might the vaccine give you COVID? “Impossible.”
- Could a vaccine activate other autoimmune disorders? “There’s no evidence of this.”
- Is there a tracking chip carried inside the vaccine? “Absolutely not the case.”
- Were there corners cut in the seemingly rapid development of the vaccines? “I can answer that right down to every detail, having been in the middle of it. I don’t think there’s ever been a vaccine tested so rigorously.”
Common concerns about the COVID vaccines can be addressed with facts, he said, “but social media does a better job of circulating incorrect information than correct information.”
Good news and bad news
From a big-picture perspective, the war on COVID currently has good news and bad news, Collins reported. “The good news is the vaccines, which were possible to develop in record time, just 11 months, are incredibly safe and effective,” far exceeding the hopes of those working to develop them, he explained.
But the bad news is the Delta variant of COVID-19 “is threatening our hopes to be done with this,” he added. And that threat is more serious because about 40% of U.S. adults are not fully immunized.
“That is heartbreaking to see, when there’s the potential here to save many lives,” the doctor said. “We’ve already lost 608,000 lives. … Misinformation and disinformation about vaccines has tripped up so many people. … It’s hard to understand.”
“Misinformation and disinformation about vaccines has tripped up so many people. … It’s hard to understand.”
Embracing both faith and science
Collins is a well-known author and speaker on the ability to embrace both faith and science. From that perspective, he laments that religious beliefs — often mixed with political ideology — are leading Americans to deny fact-based science.
“There seems to be such a strong overlap between the church and political spheres. That’s particularly true for white evangelicals,” he noted. “If you look back at the teaching of Jesus, it’s hard to see how that would necessarily fit with the political positions people of faith find themselves taking.”
Preaching the possibility of embracing both faith and science “is something I’ve been deeply concerned about since I became a Christian at age 27,” Collins said. From his perspective, faith and science are absolutely not incompatible.
“It depends on which kind of question you are trying to answer,” he advised. “If you’re asking about how things work, that’s science. … But if it’s a question about why — why are we here — science can’t give you good answers to that; that’s where faith comes in.”
While he sees progress among Christians toward embracing both faith and science, he realizes there remains a tendency in some quarters to be naturally suspicious of all science.
One reason such suspicions are ill-founded, he said, is because “40% of working scientists are believers, who believe in a God to whom one may pray in expectation of an answer. … This is not some sort of scientific plot to bring down faith.”
How to talk to someone who resists vaccination
The seasoned doctor knows what it is like to talk with someone who doesn’t believe what he’s saying about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. “What I’ve learned is that when I’m talking to someone who is a person of faith and has not been immunized, the best thing I can do is to listen instead of lecturing. I find almost everybody has a different set of reasons for why they’re hesitant.”
Especially for those who say they just want to wait longer to see what side effects others have from the vaccines, he offers this counsel: “By now we have people who were immunized a year ago because they were part of the first large-scale trials. We are watching them carefully, and there are no surprises. … Vaccines in general, if you’re going to have a side effect, it happens in the first two months.”
Text your ZIP Code to 438829, and you’ll receive an immediate reply with information about the places nearest you where vaccines are available right now.
He also realizes many skeptics will dismiss someone like him, since he represents the federal government. “What’s most effective is people who you already have trust in. Families are really important. I think more people have gotten convinced to get vaccinated by their spouses than any other sources.”
Also, doctors are trusted sources of advice on vaccination, he added. And despite the occasional story of some health care workers refusing vaccination, he offers this fact: “Ninety-six percent of health care providers who have direct patient access are vaccinated.”
Another trusted source of counsel is clergy, Collins said. Even though some clergy may be criticized for such advocacy, they have a platform and the trust to encourage vaccination.
“This is a place where most clergy can play an important role. To the point of setting up vaccination clinics in their fellowship halls. That sends a message.”
Pastors and other faith leaders are needed to be “ambassadors for the truth,” he urged. “Do not grow tired of doing good.”
Help for answering your own questions about the vaccines or preparing to talk to others is readily available at the website Get Vaccine Answers. Or text your ZIP Code to 438829, and you’ll receive an immediate reply with information about the places nearest you where vaccines are available right now.