The Rev. Franklin Graham, an evangelical leader who has been intimately involved with care for COVID-19 victims, says Americans should “pray about” getting a vaccine against the virus.
“I’m pro-life, and in fact that vaccine saves lives,” Mr. Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, told The Washington Times in a telephone interview.
Because Jesus Christ performed healing during his earthly ministry, “I think it’s important for us to encourage people to take an avenue that could save their life or to save other people’s lives,” Mr. Graham said Tuesday.
Alongside evangelism, Mr. Graham has led Samaritan’s Purse, a medical missionary and charitable group, for several decades. It was on the front lines of COVID-19 treatment last year, setting up field hospitals in several locations, including New York’s Central Park.
Mr. Graham, 68, said he and his wife were vaccinated for the coronavirus in March. He told The Times that “people have to make this decision themselves” about getting inoculated, but he stressed the severity of the disease.
“COVID is a real issue,” he said. “It can make you very sick. It can kill you.”
Mr. Graham said some may cite the lack of full and formal Food and Drug Administration approval as a reason for waiting to take the vaccine. The vaccines used in the U.S. have received only emergency authorization from the FDA.
“But I think we’ll see less objections once this is approved,” the evangelist said. “And so I hope that they can approve this soon. Don’t want them to rush into it, but all of them do their homework. I think when it is approved by the FDA, I think there’ll be many more people who will take it.”
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said Mr. Graham’s “voice could potentially be a very persuasive one” in the battle to get people vaccinated.
“I wish I could have them repeated all over the country. We need to encourage our fellow citizens to come forward. My concern is some parts [of the country] will be well vaccinated and others less so,” Dr. Schaffner added.
Between 22% and 25% of Americans identify as evangelical Christians, according to data from the Pew Research Center and the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey.
In April, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 54% of White evangelicals had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 5% said they would be vaccinated as soon as possible.
The survey found that 13% of White evangelicals were taking a wait-and-see approach and 20% said they would “definitely not” take the shot.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 60% of Americans 18 and older had received at least one vaccine shot. President Biden has set a goal of 70% of American adults inoculated by July 4.
“This is now in the ground-game phase,” said Curtis Chang, an organizer of the “Christians and the Vaccine” campaign. “Results are highly localized. Somewhat uphill, but I sense there is an opportunity the tide will change.”
Mr. Chang, a professor at Duke Divinity School, said he was happy that Mr. Graham spoke out. “As more local figures speak out and also just neighbors get the vaccine, that will slowly turn the tide here,” he added.
He blames narrow-mindedness over COVID-19 for much of the evangelicals’ vaccine hesitancy. “I really hope that this is a moment where we Christians really do reset our eyes back on Jesus and take our eyes off of partisanship and the culture wars,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Southern Baptist Convention, which reported 14.5 million members in 2019 and is the largest Protestant denomination in America, has seen its president, J.D. Greear, get vaccinated but has not yet organized a denominationwide effort, a spokesman said.
The issue of vaccination against COVID-19 has raised a variety of issues involving “religious objections” to vaccination in general and the rapidly developed COVID-19 vaccines.
Some people have raised concerns based on opposition to the use of stem cells derived from aborted fetuses in testing the vaccines. Others object to institutionally imposed mandates.
Jackie Gale, a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, enlisted the support of the public interest law firm First Liberty Institute to persuade the school to reverse its decision not to register her for classes unless she is vaccinated.
Attorney Christine Pratt said Ms. Gale “takes her faith very seriously and is simply asking UAB to respect her sincerely held beliefs. Alabama’s constitution ensures that Jackie’s sincerely held religious beliefs cannot be dismissed by UAB.”
The law firm said Ms. Gale’s parents rejected vaccinations for their child throughout her life, and Ms. Gale “believes that she would be profaning her body, and therefore dishonoring God, by receiving any vaccines.”
She also cited a pro-life stance for her opposition.
Such objections may be misplaced, said Jonathan Clemens, a physician assistant in Olympia, Washington, and the immediate past chair of the Fellowship of Christian Physician Assistants.
“Both evangelical/conservative Protestantism and Roman Catholicism say the good outweighs the bad” when it comes to vaccination, Mr. Clemens said.
The development of stem cell lines to test vaccines for safety used fetuses aborted 50 years ago, he said, and the current stem cell lines are “very remote in time and very remote in causality. Nobody aborted a baby to make vaccines.”
Mr. Clemens, who wrote about addressing religious objections to vaccinations for the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, said the objections are “kind of frustrating because nobody cared about how vaccines were tested when there were still a ton of them being produced using cell lines from an aborted fetus as a growth medium. It only became an issue when people were looking for a religious reason to object to the Pfizer/Moderna mRNA vaccines.”
In a December statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and its Committee on Pro-Life Activities acknowledged that such vaccines are acceptable despite the use of abortion-derived stem cells.
“Given the urgency of this crisis, the lack of available alternative vaccines, and the fact that the connection between an abortion that occurred decades ago and receiving a vaccine produced today is remote, inoculation with the new COVID-19 vaccines in these circumstances can be morally justified,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, wrote in the statement.
Dr. Schaffner, the Vanderbilt University health policy professor, noted an irony in some of the anti-vaccine objections.
“I know very personally some of the people who’ve worked on these vaccines, and they are very religious people, and they see themselves as doing good,” he said.