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Adventists and vaccines

Adventists and vaccines

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'More epidemics and pandemics in the time of the end should not surprise believers'

November 20, 2020 | Jorge D. Pamplona Roger, Doctor of Medicine and Surgery, Master of Public Health, Loma Linda University

In view of the frequent consultations about the vaccines we have been receiving at the Health Department of our Church in Spain, we have decided to address this issue in the Adventist Magazine. Making pronouncements about vaccines is complicated by their many repercussions, both in the health field and in the economic and even political spheres. We have only dared to publish this paper after praying and consulting with various experts in our Church.

Vaccination is one of the most important advances in public health and saves millions of lives every year, according to the WHO. [1] No one remembers what it was like to lose a child to diphtheria, or to have a neighbor affected by the after-effects of polio. Vaccination campaigns have contributed, along with improved hygiene, to a dramatic reduction in the sequelae and mortality caused by some infectious diseases.

On March 15, 2015, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists issued this statement on vaccines: [2]

"The Seventh-day Adventist Church places a strong emphasis on health and well-being. The Adventist emphasis on health is based on biblical revelation, the inspired writings of E.G. White (co-founder of the church), and peer-reviewed scientific literature. Thus, we encourage responsible immunization/vaccination and have no faith-based reason not to encourage our adherents to participate responsibly in protective and preventive immunization programs. We value the health and safety of the population, including the maintenance of 'herd immunity'. We are not the conscience of the individual parishioner and recognize individual choices. These are exercised by individuals. The decision not to be immunized is not and should not be viewed as the dogma or doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Vaccine, a solution to the coronavirus?

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new scenario is emerging. Many have placed their hopes in the announced coronavirus vaccine. "Let's see if they get the vaccine now and get it over with" is one of the most heard phrases. The illusion that the vaccine will stop the epidemic has revolutionized stock markets around the world, with some pharmaceutical companies predicting multi-million dollar revenues.

Many bodies and organizations, such as the British BBC [3], are already warning that the desired vaccine will not be a miracle solution to the pandemic.

One wonders if, as a religious denomination carrying an important health message, we can expect so much from the coveted coronavirus vaccine. Pastor Ted Wilson, president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, wrote in March 2020: [4]

"Numerous researchers and health professionals have recognized that one of the best ways to avoid contracting coronavirus, or any virus, is to have a healthy immune system, built through healthy lifestyle habits. Seventh-day Adventists are known for living healthy, for following the wonderful health principles mentioned in the Bible and in the inspired writings of Ellen White. Healthy living includes good nutrition through a balanced plant-based diet, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains, and avoiding fats and sugars, which weaken the immune system.

Adventists are right when they argue that having a healthy and efficient immune system, in addition to following the rules of hygiene, is at least as important as vaccination (if not even more so), for the prevention of infection. Among other things because there is no vaccine for the many pathogenic germs that threaten our health today, much less against those that are likely to appear in the future.

A recent report by the UN-linked Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says that there are as many as 827,000 different types of viruses in nature that could infect people, and predicts more frequent, deadlier and more costly pandemics. [5] Clearly, it is not possible to develop vaccines against 827,000 different viruses, although some might like to.

That there will be more epidemics and pandemics in the time of the end should not surprise believers. Jesus already announced this in Matthew 24:7. The mistreatment of nature, and especially of animals for the mass production of meat, deforestation, and the trade in wild animals are the causes of the current epidemics, according to the above-mentioned report.

As long as we remain in this world, and until nature is returned to its original perfection, there will be viruses and many other types of pathogenic germs. Since it is not possible to eliminate all of them, even in spite of the many types of antiseptics and antibiotics available, we are forced to live with them. Strengthening our immune system is the most important way to deal with viruses and other disease-causing germs.

Non-pharmacological strategies

Dr. Haroldo Rojas, director of the Department of Infectology at the Sanatorio Adventista del Plata, located in Entre Rios, Argentina, said in an interview in May 2020: [6]

"...as medical professionals, we must be willing to accept, also, non-pharmacological strategies that stimulate our immune system. From a vegetable-based diet, through hydrotherapy treatments and a good rest, which are part of the eight natural remedies, given by God. Using them now is an excellent opportunity in a time of pandemic whether we are infected or not. The possibility that pandemics like SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and similar pestilences will become more frequent and global in the coming years is real.”

Concerns about the new vaccine

The announced SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus vaccine causing COVID-19 raises concerns, including the following:

- Its innovative technology: It is the first time that a vaccine based on mRNA (ribonucleic acid messenger) will be produced, capable of triggering the production of antibodies in the body against the spike protein, through which the coronavirus binds to cells.

- Its development in record time: According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania (United States), it takes an average of ten years to develop a vaccine. [7] The record is currently held by the mumps vaccine, which was ready in four years. The vaccine against HIV that causes AIDS, although a very different virus from SARS-CoV-2, has not yet been achieved after nearly 30 years of research. Developing a vaccine in one year makes it difficult to evaluate both its effectiveness and possible medium- and long-term side effects.

- Its effectiveness against mutated viruses: The coronaviruses experience frequent mutations in their genetic code, given their capacity to recombine with other viruses. The same occurs with influenza viruses of the myxovirus family, another family of RNA viruses similar to the coronaviruses. Because of this ability to mutate, the flu vaccine must be reformulated each year. Will the vaccine be effective against mutated SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses, such as those already detected in several places around the world?

- Potential Mandatory Status: Some political leaders have already announced their intention to make the coronavirus vaccine mandatory, such as wearing a seat belt in a vehicle. Other countries were already requiring their citizens to be vaccinated before the pandemic, such as the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, with the right to collective health protection prevailing. In Spain today, the principle of autonomy of will prevails, which recognizes the right to accept or reject medical therapies or procedures. However, it is also established by law that public authorities can take any kind of measures to preserve public health. Could this be a step towards limiting freedom of conscience in other spheres, such as religion, based on a supposed defense of the collective interest as opposed to individual freedom?

Conclusions

1. As Seventh-day Adventists, our emphasis is on disease prevention 

- Through Hygiene, whose foundation is found in the early books of the Bible.

- Strengthening the immune system through a healthy diet and lifestyle, also based on biblical principles, and developed and expanded in the writings of Ellen G. White.

2. Vaccines, like any medicine, have both positive and negative aspects:

Positive: There is scientific evidence of the public health benefits of vaccination in the prevention of infectious diseases. Although it is not possible to attribute the current lower morbidity of infectious diseases to vaccines alone, improvements in hygiene and public sanitation systems also contribute to this.

Negative: Undesirable effects can occur after vaccination, most of them short term and mild. Theoretically, there is also the possibility that some viral vaccines, such as those developed recently through genetic engineering, may have significant side effects in the medium or long term, although there is currently no conclusive evidence of this.

3. Getting vaccinated does not eliminate the need to follow prevention rules as well as a healthy lifestyle. "Get vaccinated and do what you want" is not an acceptable message.

4. The decision to get vaccinated or not is an individual and respectable one, but it cannot be based on any dogma or doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

5. The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not reject vaccinations. But since it is not possible to have a vaccine against all current infectious diseases, much less those that may cause epidemics or pandemics in the future, our emphasis should be on strengthening the immune system through a healthy lifestyle based on the 8 natural remedies.

Author: Jorge D. Pamplona Roger, Doctor of Medicine and Surgery, Master of Public Health, Loma Linda University. Department of the Ministry of Health, Spanish Adventist Union.

[1] https://www.who.int/health-topics/vaccines-and-immunization#tab=tab_1

[2]<s> </s>https://www.adventist.org/articles/immunization/

[3] https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-54458516

[4]  Ted N. C. Wilson, 18 de marzo de 2020.https://noticias.adventistas.org/es/noticia/institucional/presidente-mundial-de-la-iglesia-adventista-se-pronuncia-sobre-el-coronavirus/

[5] https://ipbes.net/pandemics

[6] https://noticias.adventistas.org/es/noticia/ciencia/especialista-explica-sobre-tratamientos-y-vacunas-contra-el-covid-19/

[7] The complexity and cost of vaccine manufacturing - An overview.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28647170/

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