Vaccines have a long and complex history in relation to religion. While some religions have no concerns regarding vaccines, for others, it is a highly sensitive issue.
The main religious concerns around vaccines revolve around either the use and exchange of blood plasma, or the highly-unethical use of aborted foetuses in the production and development of several vaccines.
In light of the Covid-19 vaccine, these concerns are arising again, with many different denominations having differing opinions on how to approach the vaccine.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian denomination that has a difficult history when it comes to vaccines. Currently, it appears that senior figures in the church are permitting their followers to receive the vaccine.
Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Jehovah’s Witnesses were founded by Charles Taze Russell back in 1872. They are classed as Christians, though do not fall into any of the major categories of either Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox.
Jehovah’s Witnesses consider their religion to be a restoration of the original Christianity. They view Jesus as being the Son of God – but as two different entities.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are well-known for rejecting blood transfusions. This is a leading cause behind some of their opposition towards vaccines, as they often involve blood plasma.
Arguably the most famous Jehovah’s Witnesses are the Williams tennis family – including legends of the game and multiple grand-slam winning Serena and Venus.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and vaccines
Generally, Jehovah’s Witnesses have adopted a somewhat neutral stance to vaccinations. In 1931, their members were prohibited from receiving any vaccinations.
However, in 1952, leaders in the Church stated that vaccination “does not appear to us to be in violation of the everlasting covenant made with Noah, as set down in Genesis 9:4, nor contrary to God’s related commandment at Leviticus 17:10-14.
Since then, Jehovah’s Witnesses have generally been permitted to take vaccinations. On their website, advice from 2011 states that “vaccination can help to prevent some infections, but a wise person must still take necessary precautions when with someone who has an infectious disease”.
Leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have never gone on record to encourage vaccination. However, they also point to Galatians 6:5 to suggest that “whether you conscientiously decide to have your family immunised is your personal decision to make”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to avoid any vaccine or immunisation that has been derived from blood – such as the RhoGAM shot or the original Hepatitis-B vaccine.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Covid-19 vaccines
Clearly though, the Covid-19 pandemic represents a situation that is unprecedented, and therefore Jehovah’s have been looking for current advice.
In March 2020 – when Covid-19 was spreading rapidly around the world, the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses provided an update on their response to the virus.
In the update, the leaders said that the Bible does suggest that pestilence (a pandemic or severe illness that kills many people) will be a feature of the final days. Proverbs 22:3 says that it is important to take practical measures to protect ourselves and others.
Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders have adopted a neutral position on the vaccine. However, Witnesses have been permitted to use the Covid-19 vaccines as they do not involve direct blood contact.
While Witnesses have been permitted by group leaders, it hasn’t been explicitly encouraged by them. Instead, the leaders have said it is up to each individual to make their own decision.
Looking as far wide as the small African nation of Malawi, leaders in their Jehovah’s Witnesses branch were among those leading the charge for supporting vaccination in their nation.
So overall, the stance by Jehovah’s Witnesses is that it is up to each individual to make a conscious choice as to whether or not they receive any vaccination – including the Covid-19 vaccine.
For many Christians – including Jehovah’s Witnesses – the use of aborted foetuses in the development and production of some Covid-19 vaccines has proven controversial. We have an article that examines this.
Vaccines and religion are two areas that cause confusion, disagreements and controversy. In this case, while Church leaders do not actively encourage the vaccine to be taken, Jehovah’s Witnesses are permitted to take the Covid-19 vaccine.