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"Vaccination Day"
Body Politics

The Theopolitics of Vaccinations

A collection of diverse reflections on faith, spirituality, and the anti-vaxxer crisis…

This symposium explores the intersection of confessional traditions and medical science, exploring the public health concerns surrounding vaccinations and the rise of the anti-vaxxer movement, while seeking resources from within various faith traditions to articulate a theopolitics of vaccination. We have invited scholars of religion, clergy, medical professionals, and jurists from a variety of disciplinary and faith perspectives to provide their analysis and critique succinctly and passionately, in order to help navigate a complicated and sensitive public health issue.

2019 proved to be a record-setting year for the global measles outbreak, affecting 181 countries, and recording the highest number of cases since 2006. Measles is highly contagious, requiring a high community level vaccination rate of 95% to prevent sustained transmission. While measles is no longer endemic (constantly present) in the US, the growing number of parents refusing to vaccinate their children has contributed to a resurgence of the disease, and the CDC has reported the highest measles case count in 25 years.

As the parent of a leukemia survivor who was immunocompromised during treatment, I recall having to cancel air travel plans because of a 2015 measles outbreak in California: we could not risk exposing our son to infection. Immunization is a public health concern that affects all members of society, and while we need to be respectful of religious and ideological differences, our Constitutional tradition has always balanced private and personal rights with the greater or common good. In the case of highly contagious diseases for which there exist safe and reliable immunizations, it is imperative that our society do what it can to protect the most vulnerable among us – infants, the elderly, and those like my son who are immunocompromised.

Vaccine hesitancy, the refusal to be vaccinated or to have one’s children vaccinated against contagious diseases, has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the leading threats to global public health. Medical science assures us vaccines work, albeit with minimal yet manageable side-effects, but the anti-vaxxer movement keeps growing. Our goal for this forum is to jumpstart a meaningful conversation across confessional lines involving religious practitioners, medical professionals, and legal experts in order to articulate a thoughtful, respectful, and practical response to this growing crisis.

Symposium Essays

Just Remove this Death from Me: Rabbinic Responses to Vaccination

Contemporary rabbinic authorities have established this religious obligation as carrying scriptural authority – citing no fewer than five affirmative Commandments and three Biblical prohibitions.

Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy

Over the years we have realized two things. One, the anti-vaccination lobby is very strong and they use social media to their benefit. Second, for any vaccination campaign to be successful it would require a positive socio-political and religious background.

Religion, Law and Vaccines

Non-vaccinating parents are asking, in the name of religion, to risk their own child and their child’s classmates with a preventable disease. This is not a theoretical risk: the last outbreak of polio in the United States, to give one example, was in a Christian Scientist school with low vaccine rates.

Community Storytellers and the Theopolitics of Vaccinations

Uprooting a fear without replacing it with helpful information is redundant. Therefore, it is time to shift focus from merely quashing anti-vaccine sentiment to intentionally building vaccine confidence. Nigeria provides a heartening case study on how this can be achieved.

Conscience, religious tolerance and public health

Even though the vaccination debate has nothing to do with religion, the public colored it with religious tones, and opted for policy inspired by the evolving culture of religious toleration and respect for individual conscience. After this move in the direction of post-reformation European culture took shape, public health turned medieval.