GREG HARTON: Vaccines’ trigger of body’s amazing defense seems miraculous

Got religion?

If anything good might be said of the worldwide spread of covid-19, it’s that the disease has prompted a lot of people to find God.

Well, not exactly.

Rather, it seems it’s inspired a lot of people to find religion.

No, that’s not exactly accurate either.

It’s not that covid-19 has led people to religion. Rather, their desire to avoid getting a vaccination against covid-19 has motivated some health care workers to seek exemptions based on religion. Politicians, like Montana’s governor Greg Gianforte, have urged unvaccinated health care workers to explore religious exemptions and included an exemption request form in a recent letter to those who face federal vaccination mandates. Whether he believes those ought to be truthful requests, he didn’t say.

Vaccine mandates are a factor in the nation’s health care sector, whether it’s through the federal government’s Medicare or Medicaid requirements or a hospital’s own decision to require staff to be vaccinated. The military has its mandates, too.

No major religious denominations or faiths oppose vaccinations. Employers are put in a difficult spot of judging whether an employee’s beliefs are “sincerely held.” How would you like that job? Health care managers, especially in rural areas where staffing is a challenge, find themselves eager to accept religious exemptions if it means keeping employees on the job. Others in the medical field recognize the abuse of exemptions and the dangers that represent to patients.

“If you’re not going to be vaccinated and you’re going to be caring for the frail, the elderly, you should get out of health care,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A New York Times story featured in our newspaper last Tuesday discussed the developing knowledge on vaccines and how effective they will be for the longer term. The science of how the body works — how vaccines trigger the body’s natural defense systems — was again amazing to me. Even more so were the descriptions of the body’s T cells and B cells — sometimes referred to as memory cells — and their roles in long-term protection, even against variants that don’t yet exist. These cells can remember how to fight a virus for years, as they did with the SARS virus in 2003. Researchers determined people exposed with SARS had protective T cells that last more than 17 years.

As I read that story, I wasn’t thinking so much about vaccines as about our bodies and their astounding capacity to respond to viral invasions. The body’s processes are amazing. Miraculous, even. This is God’s handiwork.

Vaccines are used to trigger the body’s responses, so people don’t have to get sick to achieve a protective defense. It’s a far more complex process, but a bit like putting bait in a mouse trap. If you’ve got mice, laying out traps without bait won’t do much good.

I don’t have the capacity to divine whose religious exemption is real and whose is just a ploy to support their politically driven health care decisions. No, on an individual level, I wouldn’t dare to suggest one person’s faith is stronger or weaker than another’s. That’s a fruits of the spirit kind of thing (see Galatians 5:22 for reference).

From a societal perspective, however, let’s at least call it suspicious that so many people, faced with a unlike mandate or even encouragement to get a vaccination as part of their jobs, developed a vaccine-avoiding expression of faith their colleagues and friends have previously to witness.

I only suggest that if as many people as have claimed religious exemptions were so active in their faith in other areas, the nation might just be undergoing a spiritual transformation. As far as I can tell, it’s not.

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