Lord, Should I Get Vaccinated? Religion and Anti-Vax, Explained

What happens when faith meets science.
A health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford's Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine inside a Catholic church turned into a vaccination centre in Manila on May 21, 2021.
Photo/s: Ted Aljibe, Agence France-Presse

Christian missionary Philip refuses to get vaccinated, saying he was standing up against what he calls "mass censorship" of his position. A healthy lifestyle and faith in God is enough to keep him safe from the virus, he said.

On the opposite end of the vaccine spectrum is Jazzie Burgos, a medical doctor who specializes in molecular biology who vouched for the jabs in a recent online townhall as she urged Filipinos to get immunized, given the threat of the hyper-contagious Delta variant. Vaccines are an answered prayer from God, she said.

Both citing religion but with divergent views, Philip and Jazzie show how faith influences Filipinos' view on COVID-19 vaccination, the same way it draws the line between those who are for or against divorce, condom use and same-sex unions.

"I believe that anyone who is sick, whether you are sick because of the vaccine or cancer, I see people get healed from blindness, cancer, anything. We should put our faith in Jesus," The Berean Project leader Philip told reportr.

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Burgos said: "This vaccine is a gift. We have been praying for this and I consider this as an answered prayer."

Pope Francis recently told Catholics that getting vaccinated is an "act of love" because it helps build herd immunity. In the Philippines, the long-running Oratio Imperata or special prayer for the pandemic acknowledges how vaccines were "made possible" by God's "healing hand".

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How religion is used for vaccine refusal

Religion could influence vaccine refusal -- from the pandemic being a sign of Christ's second coming, to vaccines having microchips, making people Satan's followers. These are sometimes based on malicious interpretations of Biblical verses by fearmongers, some pastors said.

In a video circulating online, Davao-based preacher Rod Cubos told his flock that they should refuse the jab as he warned it could endanger the body and soul, and change your "godly DNA." 

Cubos claimed that the crisis is a mark of the zombie apocalypse, as foretold by Nostradamus, and at least two generations will be wiped out because of the vaccine. The church said it would take action against the video uploader.

Some claim that COVID-19 vaccines have microchips, and inoculation means getting the "mark of the beast" or a pledge of allegiance to Satan. It became the subject of videos so heavily on social media that even Reuters issued a fact check.

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Medical experts have debunked reports that COVID-19 vaccines contain metals that can make the recipient magnetic.

Pastor and professor Doreen Alcoran-Benavidez, the research and development head of the Asian Seminary of Christian Ministries, said in a lengthy Facebook post that while the book of Revelation prophesized the end of the world, there's no Biblical reason to believe COVID-19 vaccines carry the "mark of the beast."

"Kahit maglagay pa ako ng 666 sa noo ko at maglagay ako ng microchip sa kamay ko eh wala naman akong dine-deny na Christ, walang effect 'yun. It is just a number unless naglagay ka ng 666 at sinabi mo na Jesus is not my Lord," Benavidez said.

Some vaccine decliners saw anti-Christ moves in philanthropist Bill Gates, who pledged at least $1.75 billion to the COVID-19 response. They said it was part of Gates' plan to "alter" the human DNA (Here's a Reuters fact check on this).

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Theologian and Victory Alabang Pastor Jun Divierte said in an online discussion with doctors that the anti-Christ claim started at the time of Roman Emperor Nero and has been tagging different people, from Adolf Hitler, to John F. Kennedy, and even Barney the purple dinosaur.

Vaccine refusal among believers is the result of conspiracy theories that become effective when you mix a bit of truth with fiction "para lumabas na parang totoo," Divierte said.

"Itong conspiracy theories na ito will cost us our lives so please, let's not try to assume that this is not true, itong COVID virus na ito. Let's always go after the truth," he said, advising people not to share what they see online unless it's verified.

Should vaccines be a choice based on religion?

The Mindanao Evangelical Leaders Council recently took a stand against mandatory COVID vaccines, after Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. filed the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 to require free jabs for all Filipinos, except those with medical conditions that make them unfit to get it.

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"We are all for vaccination, not anti-government and not anti-vax. However, we are unified with our varied stands. While many of us are already inoculated, a significant number are still not for diverse reasons," the group said.

The council cited Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe who said that "the right to health is a constitutional right and I think employees should be given the right to refuse or not to refuse this vaccine".

The Department of Health has maintained that while vaccination is important to end the COVID-19 crisis, it is not mandatory. Informed consent should be obtained before immunization, in line with recommendations from the WHO.

Alam po natin na meron pong obligation ang bawat kababayan natin, this is what we call moral obligation na kung tayo’y magpapabakuna, hindi lang po 'yung sarili natin ang iisipin natin kung hindi 'yung mga mahal natin sa buhay, community, and the whole population because we want to achieve herd immunity,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

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While Divierte urged the public to get inoculated, he would respect other people's decision if they refuse the jab. "If that person really wants to stand on his faith, wala tayong magagawa roon. That's his faith and conviction," he said.

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