A person who has been paralysed waist down since 2015 gets vaccinated at Orangkong village under Longleng district in the presence of DIO and Executive Secretary, PBCA on June 27 last. (Photo Courtesy: twitter@NagalandNhm)
There appear to be only two solutions to the incoming third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that is predicted to hit us in the coming months.
1. Endless Total Lockdown
2. Vaccination of at least 80% of all eligible beneficiaries.
A never-ending total lockdown will only invite more miseries. So mass vaccination appears to be the only ticket out of this pandemic. However, six months after India launched the world’s largest vaccination drive, less than 30% of the state’s population has received the first dose and a little around 4% of the population has received both doses. Since the start of the pandemic, the state has recorded 484 COVID-19 deaths and most of them were unvaccinated. The Dept. of Health and Family Welfare has disclosed recently that out of 98 samples sent for whole genome sequencing to the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics in West Bengal, 93 were reported to be of the Delta variant, the variant responsible for the devastating second wave in India. The good news is, as per the available data, the AstraZeneca vaccine (known as Covishield in India) after two doses is reported to have more than 90% effectiveness against hospitalization and death for the Delta variant. The bad news is, of all the seven sister states in the North-East, Nagaland ranks the lowest in terms of COVID-19 vaccination as far the number of doses administered is concerned. If vaccines are proving to be efficient against hospitalization and death, what is driving the vaccine hesitancy in the state?
The first major roadblock towards vaccination in Nagaland came in the form of a prophecy from a prayer centre that claimed that COVID-19 vaccination was the 'mark of the beast' – a symbol of submission to the Antichrist found in biblical prophecies. Now for a community of Christians like us who ascribes demi-god status to ‘prayer warriors’ and ‘prophesiers’, we tend to accept whatever they say as the gospel truth (since we assume that they have been chosen to convey God’s messages to His people). Now when a ‘servant of God’ proclaims that vaccines are the 'mark of the beast' (666), most of us are easily convinced.
This brings us to a very interesting discussion on why God is very fond of issuing a corrigendum through ‘prayer warriors’ and ‘prophesiers’ every time there is a new vaccine in the world to fight deadly infectious diseases. In 2018, when the Government of India launched the Measles-Rubella vaccine drive for kids in the country, there were several prophecies and warnings from the ‘prayer warriors’ and ‘prophesiers’ declaring that the Measles-Rubella vaccine would cause infertility to the mothers of the kids. (In an attempt to maintain my sanity, I had to shamelessly ask those anti-vaxxers to explain to me what kind of wireless-quantum physics-alien technology teleportation takes place which causes the mothers to become infertile when the Measles-Rubella Vaccine jab is being administered to the kids and not to the mothers?)
This in turn leads us to ponder – It is possible that sometimes our ‘prayer warriors’ and ‘prophesiers’ are receiving messages not from God but from their subconscious mind as a result of some trauma or some propaganda or some incidents that they experienced in the past? For example, a majority of the present-day prophesiers linking vaccination to infertility belong to the Indira Gandhi era. In the 1970s, the late Indian Prime Minister along with his son Sanjay Gandhi tried to carry out a mass sterilization programme in the country to control the population which included compulsory vasectomies for men with two or more children. This forced sterilization programme caused mass hysteria and fear all over the country. They all grew up hearing the news often concocted with rumours and wild imagination that Mrs Indira Gandhi was now performing operations to make everyone infertile. Now for Christians who believe that God has commanded them to ‘multiply and filled the earth’ and ‘children are blessings from heaven’, such acts were believed to be handworks of the devil. Is it possible that our ‘prayer warriors’ and ‘prophesiers’ of the ‘Nasbandi Era’ who were traumatized with the sterilization rumours are now linking new vaccines to infertility in their subconscious mind resulting in a deadly prophecy against such vaccines? It is possible. (Using the same line of thought we can theorise why many ‘prayer warriors’ and ‘prophesiers’ often dishes out prophecies on ‘Number of youths attending this youth revival that will pass the NPSC/UPSC’, ‘About diseases and the devil’, ‘About the number of Coffins’ and so on and very rarely on repentance and sin and salvation.) The tragedy is that such ‘prayer warriors’ and ‘prophesiers’ prophesy without any malicious intent believing they are simply acting as God’s messenger but sometimes leads to serious consequences.
The prophecies between vaccines and the ‘mark of the beast’ are easier to the rise. Christians have always been fascinated by several passages from the book of Revelations in the Bible containing graphic details of the end of times. One such is the ‘mark of the beast’. Believing that we are living at the end of time era, we have always been suspicious of any Government programmes that had something to do with our ‘personal space’. Hence when the Government started capturing our unique fingerprints and eye prints to prepare a national registration system called ‘adhaar’, there was an abundance of prophecies linking ‘adhaar’ to the ‘mark of the beast’. Now when believers are convinced that COVID-19 is one of the works of the devil ushering us into the ‘final stage’ of ‘the end of time’ era, and a shot in the arm vaccine was the solution, many quickly jumped to the conclusion that it was the devil’s cunning way of inking his indelible stamp upon us.
Of course, many right-thinking believers condemn and outwardly reject such atrocious prophecies without any Biblical merit. However, at the same time, they also refuse to be vaccinated citing one or the other reasons. Here are some excuses they offer:
1. The vaccine is not 100% safe or 100% efficient. (No medicine or vaccine is 100% safe or 100% efficient. Nothing in this world is 100% safe and efficient for that matter. On your unlucky day, you could even die from choking at the dinner table. Even a common drug like paracetamol causes thousands of accidental death worldwide every year.)
2. Even the vaccinated gets infected with COVID-19. Why should I take it? (Vaccines won’t create a magical shield around you that will repel the virus. If you don’t follow COVID appropriate behaviours after vaccination, you will still get infected with COVID-19. But data shows that full vaccination will prevent you from severe infection and hospitalization. The idea is to prevent you from dying due to COVID-19 and other health complications it gives rise to.)
3. Nobody can force me to take the jab. I have my individual rights. (Of course, nobody is forcing you to take the jab. It is voluntary. However, individual rights won’t save you from COVID-19. Also, people around you have their individual rights as well. It is possible that you may endanger the lives of people around you with your irresponsible behaviour. Refusing to take the vaccine impacts a lot of people – yourself, your loved ones and the country as a whole.)
4. I will wait and watch for a while. (You have been saying that since the beginning of the year. More than 3.1 billion doses have been administered all over the world, out of which 331 million doses have been administered in India alone since January 2021. We still haven’t heard of vaccinated people turning into zombies or causing any national health emergencies. If you have been conducting some independent research, you have enough data by now.)
5. The Government is putting a microchip in the vaccine to track you. (You are either spending too much time on Whatsapp University or watching too many science fiction movies. Physically, chips are not small enough that they could be inoculated with a needle.)
6. Vaccines are a part of a conspiracy against humanity. I can’t prove it to you now but time will reveal it. (If vaccines are a conspiracy, they are a conspiracy against deadly infectious diseases. The most probable reason you’re alive today is because you were vaccinated upon birth for diseases like polio, hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, rotavirus, measles, chickenpox and a host of other diseases that killed millions before the arrival of vaccines.)
7. God will protect me. I’d rather put my faith in God rather than a man-made vaccine. (This is either blind faith or pure hypocrisy. In the Gospels, the devil used the same line of reasoning to tempt Jesus. After an unsuccessful attempt at luring Jesus to turn stones into bread, Matthew notes that the devil took Jesus to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’. Jesus replied, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” God created us in His image and this includes our ability to ‘reason and think’. For centuries we have used ‘thinking and reasoning’ to alleviate human suffering by developing medicines and vaccines. Will you stop the doctors from administering vaccines to your newborn baby using the same line of thinking?)
The response of the Church
Most of the church leaders are silent on the issue of COVID-19 vaccines. They don’t oppose the vaccination drives but at the same time, they hardly use the church platform to educate the masses on the importance and benefits of getting vaccinated. Of course, nobody is blaming them or pointing fingers at them for that. Many of them feel that they aren’t the right persons for educating people on medicines and vaccines without a degree in medicine or a PhD in microbiology. A pastor confided in me that he believes in COVID-19 vaccines as the way out of the pandemic but lamented that the believers aren’t ready to accept pro-vaccine sermons from the pulpit at the moment. Another pastor told me that his church elders were of the opinion that COVID-19 vaccination is a non-spiritual exercise the merits or demerits of which haven’t been proven and hence the church should maintain neutrality on the issue. There might be several other genuine reasons binding the church leaders from using the church as a platform for vaccine advocacy. However, the fact remains that we are living in a society where ‘the preaching from the pulpit’ becomes ‘the predominant view of the public’ and when we are rushing to get the population vaccinated before the third wave hits us, a little push from the pulpit would perhaps go a long way in saving people’s lives.
The church urgently needs to play a proactive role in fighting against vaccine hesitancy. Pastors who have been vaccinated should continue to share their testimony about their vaccination and educate the congregation on the importance of vaccination. The church should also open its pulpit to doctors and experts by inviting them for educational programmes related to COVID-19 vaccination which can be aired through various media platforms. The youths can also be engaged to produce creative social media content relating to COVID19- vaccination.
As Francis Collins, one of the leading Christian scientists and head of America’s National Insitute of Health said in an interview recently, “The church, in this time of confusion, ought to be a beacon, a light on the hill, an entity that believes in truth.” Or else, another gloomy Christmas awaits us again this winter.
(The writer is a civil servant and the author of Dreams & Chaos and Campus Blues)