By Dr. Terrill Wade, Crosswalk.com
Making health decisions for ourselves can be difficult but making health decisions for our children is even harder. These decisions nearly always involve an incomplete knowledge of the risks involved and so the responsibility of decision-making weighs heavily upon us.
The January 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation poll reflects some of these uncertainties among parents.
- 61% of parents of 12-17-year-olds say their child has received at least one shot, 6% of parents will wait-and-see, 4% of parents will only vaccinate their teen if required to do so, and 25% of parents said they will definitely not vaccinate their child.
- 33% of parents of 5-11-year-olds say their child has received at least one shot, 13% of parents say they will get their child vaccinated right away, 19% of parents will wait-and-see, 9% of parents will do it only if required, and 24% of parents will definitely not get their child vaccinated.
- Approximately 33% of parents of children under 5 say they’ll get their child vaccinated right away once a vaccine is approved for their age group, 29% of parents will wait-and-see, 10% of parents will vaccinate their child only if required, and 26% of parents will not vaccinate their child.
What a wide range of responses! The poll results keep changing from month to month as new vaccines are produced and gradually become more familiar, but many of us are still stuck in the middle. Sometimes, even if we think we know what we should do, we are simply too afraid to move ahead due to concerns about risk. Sometimes we just put the decision off because we feel too confused to handle it.
As a Christian parent with a medical background, I would like to offer a helpful thought process regarding uncertain health decisions. For Christians, all difficult decisions need to begin with considering the character of God and His interactions with his people. In this case, because a lot of our concerns relate to not being able to see the future result of our medical decisions, we will begin with His omnipotence (sovereign power over all things) and His knowledge of all things.
Warning – the first question is the hardest one of them all!
1. Do I really believe that God is sovereign over (in charge of) all things that happen in this world?
If you think I have placed a wrong emphasis on the question, listen to what God says about himself:
- “I, I am the LORD, and beside me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you: and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isa. 43:11-13) ESV
- “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it forth before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God beside me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (Isa. 44:6-8)
- “I am the LORD and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isa. 45:6-7)
- “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnants of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” (Isa. 46:3-4)
This is the first and most important question to answer in a decision-making process because our answer to it will affect all decisions we make for our children, including those related to the COVID-19 vaccinations.
Psalm 139:16 (Living Bible) further reassures us that the things that we worry about for our children are already under God’s control. And please note the past tense used – tomorrow is as yesterday to our God. “You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!”
In fact, the whole of Psalm 139 affirms that God has always known both ourselves and our children intimately and in all aspects of our lives. There are no life, death, or vaccine side-effect surprises for Him. What a powerful relief for parents! Joining God’s forever knowledge of us to His powerful control of everything in our lives means that we can, at last, be free of the crippling concern that a decision we make will mess up our children’s lives! Their lives are in His hands.
Yes, we still need to pray, carefully using the insight He gives us along with our human wisdom to make the best decision we can. Yes, we still need to find and weigh up the relevant information upon which to base that decision. But no longer do we need to remain paralyzed about deciding because we can’t be 100% certain of the risks to our children.
2. Have I gathered the information about the risks of COVID-19, as well as the risks and benefits of vaccination, and measured it up against my duties as a Christian parent?
As we consider this question it will be helpful to examine what we already know God calls us to do for our children in the arena of protection so that we can use those principles to guide us since vaccination is not mentioned by name in the Scriptures. In the first place, we know that God calls us to spiritually protect our children by raising them in the “nurture and admonition of the LORD.” This involves teaching them to know the Lord (Deut. 4:9, Deut. 6:7, Prov. 22:6), educating them so they can read God’s Word and become wise, leading them by example (2 Chron. 17:3, 2 Chron. 26:4, 2 Tim. 1:5) and disciplining (training) them that they might not die (spiritually).
We also know that we are called to physically provide for our children by meeting their needs for food, clothing, a roof over their heads, and reliable love. Jesus assumes this caring state when he says, “Which of you, when his child asks for bread, gives him a stone?” But providing for our children also involves protecting them physically, to the best of our ability. While we ultimately depend on God for His providential care (as mentioned earlier) parents are called to use practical wisdom to protect our children from all types of injury. We work hard at keeping them from running with scissors, playing with guns, getting out of their car seat while we drive, fighting with others, standing too close to a cliff edge, running across the road without looking, etc. But we must remember that protection also includes protecting them from injuries caused by disease.
In the Old Testament, we see that God did this for His people. He gave them very practical directions to maintain their health and exclude disease, despite their minimal understanding of disease at that time in history. In the Exodus, for example, he commanded them to set up bathroom arrangements outside the camp and we now know that many infective organisms spread through fecal matter, either through the skin like hookworm or through infecting the drinking water like cholera. Other public health commands related to the destruction of mold (fungus)in houses, keeping lepers away from general community contact, and the prohibition on eating pork (tapeworm cysts remained a problem in pork meat right up until the 20th century). God communicated these requirements to His people in terms of cleanliness as a form of holiness, since germs wouldn’t be discovered for 1900 years. I suspect the Israelites often found these public (community) health requirements onerous, but God’s care in protecting His people from dangerous diseases points us to similar preventive care for our children when available.
There are already many clear explanations about the COVID-19 disease and the safety and risks of the protective vaccines for us available on the internet for us. A word to the wise - because COVID-19 is still an “emerging” disease there may be some disagreement between earlier and later reports, so look for articles with late 2021 -2022 dates or updates.
In case you haven’t been satisfied with those informational sites you’ve found, let me give you a few reliable sites.
- COVID-19 disease and children – Mayo Clinic Children and Babies,University of Maryland Q&A, Long Covid Syndrome,Encouraging information about Long Covid in children
- COVID-19 vaccinations and children - University of Maryland Q&A on Kids vaccines
3. Have I carefully considered the fact that any decision I make about vaccinating my children will affect two groups of people?
Obviously, our children make up the first group. They are our God-given responsibility in the ways we just considered. Caring sacrificially and wisely for them forms a large part of our responsive love to the God who gifted us with them. But in the case of a potentially fatal disease like COVID-19 which can be passed on to others, we must also consider what effect the decision we make about vaccinating them will have on “the others” group. Why should we? For a couple of strong reasons:
1. Because God created His people to live in community - families, tribes, cities, and countries.
Genesis tells us right from the beginning that “it was not good for Adam to be alone”, God’s covenant promises were made to Abraham and his seed, God dealt with Israel as a community (His people), and Christ is the cornerstone of His church, which is a community of worshippers meeting together regularly and loving each other as a witness to the world of God’s love. Revelation also tells us that at the end of time what began in the “isolation” of the garden of Eden on earth will end in the “city” community of the new Jerusalem in heaven. As I said, God created us to live in community.
Being part of a community requires us to think about others. Citizens of countries like Japan have long made their personal decisions within the framework of “What is good for my family and my community?” or “What is good for my company?” but this type of thinking is often hard for American Christians to bring into our decision-making. After all, we grew up surrounded by the concepts of “independence”, “rugged individualism” “making my own way”, or being “self-reliant.” The average American Christian often doesn’t even consider the possibility that perhaps we should be asking the question “How will my personal decision affect the community in my church?”
Yet, in God’s providence, the fact remains that we are people who live in community, and in this pandemic, we must think about how our vaccination decisions will affect that community.
2. Because the second great commandment of Jesus is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
When asked to define this neighbor, Jesus used the example of a man who was not a family member, not a compatible believer, not a Jewish synagogue member, and not even a local person. He was a foreigner whose home was somewhere else and whose ethnicity and beliefs were different from the man he was helping. Jesus meant “neighbor” to be widely inclusive, not just limited to people we know. I also think it is telling that Jesus’ neighborly example showed the Good Samaritan carrying out his love within a risky-to-himself, non-benefit-to-himself, medical need situation.
So what might “loving our neighbor” mean when we are considering whether to vaccinate our children against COVID-19?
For our close neighbors, it means considering whether our actions are able to protect the unseen numbers of “immune-needy” or susceptible people around us from illness or death, and their families from the educational, economic, and bereavement upheavals that can result from COVID-19 infections,
A recent study, carefully conducted over a 6-month period, was published online October 8, 2021 and later in the JAMA Pediatric magazine, in which regular weekly testing confirms that children do indeed become infected at the same rate as adults, but that a larger proportion of children do not show any symptoms. 52% of infections in the 1-4 age group, 50% of infections in the 5-11 age group, and 45% of infections in the 12-17 age group (compared to only 12% of adults) are asymptomatic. That means that only one out of every two children who become infected may not show it.
This is a significant finding when we are considering the community spread of COVID-19. For example, a school bus driver may catch Covid from an infected child who has no symptoms and pass it on to her elderly mother with heart disease. While the child remains fine, one or both of them may have a bad result from the infection. Obviously, we are not able, nor should we expect to be able, to control all events in our neighbor’s lives, but this disease communicability has to be taken into account in our decision about vaccinating our children.
For our distant neighbors, it means loving the people of the world enough to want to help end the pandemic quickly, both to prevent their physical and economic needs from getting worse and so they may live to hear the gospel of salvation. The common ways we might help involve giving money or time and effort to COVID-19 research, donating for the provision of food, and organizing the sending of vaccinations and anti-viral medicines to needy countries.
But the vaccination of ourselves and our children is also a major, although unusual, “neighborly” way to love our world community. As I explained in my last article, variants of the COVID-19 virus will continue to arise as long as there are susceptible bodies to infect. Having more vaccinated bodies will cut down on the amount of viral reproduction that can lead to the development of more COVID-19 variants, so it is an important way to help bring the pandemic to manageable levels and contribute to the relief of our neighbors. This fact also deserves to be taken into consideration as we make our decision.
Making health decisions for our children is never easy, especially in the case of a new disease that continues to change, but we do have a sovereign God who is involved in every aspect of our children’s lives and whom we can trust to complete the good works He has begun in us, we have the principles in His Word and the Holy Spirit to guide us, and we now have two years of information about COVID-19 and increasing amounts of information about the vaccines available to us.
Let us use all these resources to make our decisions.
Related articles by Dr. Terrill Wade:
- Are Vaccinations Ethical for Christians? (Part 1)
- Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Ethical? - Is it Safe? (Part 2)
- Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Use Fetal Tissue? (Part 3)
- What Good Is the Current COVID-19 Vaccine? - The Variants (Part 4)
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/gpointstudio
Terrill Wade is a retired M.D. and medical educator who completed her medical training in Australia and her Family Practice Residency and Board Certification in the United States. Her years after that were divided between medicine, homeschooling three children, biology teaching, and adjunct lecturing. She is particularly interested in the effects on society of the new genetic technologies that have developed over the last 20 years. The direction that genetic research takes is enormously influenced by society’s answer to one question: “What does it mean to be human?”
Dr. Wade’s aim is to encourage other Christians to make the effort to accurately understand the relevant scientific facts involved in new medical technology, and, just as importantly, to then assess where, or if, this technology/medical treatment fits within a Christian view of the relationship between God and man.
To further this goal, she gives presentations to Christian groups, writes articles, and sporadically maintains two blogs - newmedinfo.com (currently concerning Covid-19 vaccines) and havingchildrentoday.org (dealing with assisted reproduction matters).