CONTRIBUTORS

What would Jesus do? He'd get vaccinated, that's what

Robin Abcarian
Los Angeles Times (TNS)

One year ago, when my father was sliding toward the end, I had occasion to call 911 three times in the weeks before he died.

During each fraught first-responder visit, my house filled with at least half a dozen brawny, uniformed paramedics and firefighters. We stood inches from one another as they took my father's vital signs to determine why he had fallen or passed out or — on the last visit — whether he'd had a catastrophic stroke.

This is the kind of vulnerable person that our vaccine-resistant firefighters are metaphorically spitting on when, in the name of personal or religious freedom, they refuse any of the widely available, safe and efficacious COVID-19 vaccines.

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About half our city firefighters and police officers have refused to vaccinate.

A group of Los Angeles Police Department employees has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, which has imposed a vaccine mandate on city employees, accusing the city of violating their constitutional rights to privacy and due process.

The Firefighters 4 Freedom Foundation, a group of more than 500 members of the city's Fire Department, has sued the city in state court, declaring themselves "pawns in a political chess match."

They are pawns all right — manipulated by social-media-spawned misinformation, ignorance and antagonism toward scientific expertise.

A man pushes his belongings past a sign announcing a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic for homeless people in Los Angeles, California on September 22, 2021, hosted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and United Way. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

And now we learn that about a quarter of the Police Department's workforce has indicated it plans to pursue religious exemptions to the vaccine, a patently absurd and disingenuous dodge. Similar requests are being made by public employees all over the country.

'Undue burden': This rash of religious awakenings is inspired by the passage in the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act that says employers must make reasonable accommodations for workers who object to work requirements because of "sincerely held" religious beliefs.

But the law also says exemptions cannot place an "undue" burden on employers, nor be based on political or social beliefs.

I would submit that our vaccine-resistant first responders are placing an undue burden on all of us, and that they are doing so for reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

No major world religion has prohibitions against vaccinations. Even Christian Science, a sect known for favoring prayer over medical intervention for illness, encourages its adherents to follow public health guidelines, including vaccination mandates.

Curtis Chang, a former Christian pastor, created the website Christians and the Vaccine to explore, and try to allay, objections to vaccines on various grounds.

In a conversation Monday, he told me that Christian Scientists are OK with vaccines because they believe in Christ's profound message to "love thy neighbor as thyself."

"The vaccine effort has been plagued by falsehoods of all kinds," Chang wrote in a recent New York Times essay. "The religious exemption from vaccine mandates for Christians is the latest lie."

Californians are familiar with the vaccine wars, having gone through the vax hysteria of 2015 after a measles outbreak at Disneyland prompted Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, to introduce legislation eliminating the personal belief exemption for schoolchildren whose parents did not want to immunize their kids.

He weathered death threats and physical assault, but the bill was signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, and Pan has continued to push the issue. This year, he proposed a law that would make it illegal to harass or disturb people at vaccination sites. It awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom's signature.

In 2019, after it became clear that a small number of doctors were responsible for a large spike in medical exemptions, Pan introduced a bill, signed into law by Newsom, requiring state health officials to vet every such request.

I was always surprised that some of the most passionate childhood immunization skeptics and holdouts were well-educated left-wing types who believed they knew what was best for their children.

In 2015, Marin County was a major anti-vax stronghold. Curiously, though, Marin County now has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state.

"That really speaks to the ideological cast that is driving the resistance to this vaccine," Pan told me. "It's not based on science or information. The politicization of public health has driven this."

Who are they?: White Christian evangelicals, especially men, are the largest demographic group of COVID-19 vaccine holdouts, according to public health officials.

Some believe that fetal cell lines, obtained through abortion, were used in the development of COVID-19 vaccines. (The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were not developed with fetal cell lines; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used a fetal cell line that was first created in 1985.) Some just don't want the government telling them what to do.

Russell Moore and Walter Kim of the National Association of Evangelicals have urged their followers to get the shots: "Indeed," they wrote, "the vaccines are a cause for Christians to rejoice and to give glory to God.... By getting vaccinated as soon as our time is called, we can actively work for what we have been praying for — churches filled with people, hugs in the church foyer, and singing loudly the hymns we love."

The Catholic Church agrees: "It is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process," declared the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope Francis has said getting vaccinated is "an act of love."

Pan told me about an employer in Arkansas, Conway Regional Hospital, that created a list of common medications developed using fetal cell lines after many of its employees said they objected to the COVID-19 vaccine for religious reasons. To ensure their beliefs were sincerely held, the hospital asked them to vow that they do not and will not use medications including Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Lipitor, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, Albuterol, Claritin, Zoloft, Ibuprofen and Preparation H.

Pan also mentioned a news report he'd seen out of Missouri, where patients secretly got vaccinations, or even showed up in disguise at pharmacies, because they didn't want to be harassed or challenged by anti-vax friends and family members.

If you're wondering what Jesus would do, by now it should be pretty obvious: Love your neighbor, get the shot.