JERUSALEM – Many leaders around the world are praising Israel’s lightning-fast effort to vaccinate its entire population against the coronavirus, which has tragically taken the lives of 6,000 Israelis, and more than 2.5 million people worldwide.
But some Christians are raising concerns about the safety of the COVID vaccines, the as-of-yet unanswered questions about their potential long-term side effects, even about whether the vaccines are an End Times fulfillment of prophetic warnings found in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation.
In response, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) issued a lengthy and detailed statement over the weekend addressing those concerns and answering a number of specific questions that Christians worldwide have raised.
I found the statement well-argued, biblical and balanced. Our staff does not agree on all of these points, but we will continue to cover Israel's vaccination phenomenon from a range of angles.
Overall, I agree with the points that ICEJ President Jürgen Bühler, Vice President David Parsons and their colleagues presented.
Perhaps with one exception.
The ICEJ statement notes, “Israel is not moving to become a segregated nation dividing its population into vaccinated and unvaccinated. Everyone in Israel is still free to refuse being vaccinated, although it may mean some temporary limitations on the choices they can make for movement and social engagement.”
While it is true that Israelis are not forced to get vaccinated, those who do not are unable to freely travel about the country, go to restaurants, sporting events, movie theaters, etcetera. This essentially prevents families from even dining together at a restaurant since children under 16 are still unable to get vaccinated and hence are ineligible for a "green passport." Some believers in the land feel the "green pass" system is a form of discrimination.
What's more, the government has been saying that people can either be vaccinated or “get tested” every few days. But we see little evidence that the government is setting up hundreds or thousands of rapid-testing centers all over the country.
Without such testing centers – even small ones located in pharmacies and malls – it will become increasingly difficult to show a negative COVID-19 test, thus making it increasingly more difficult for those who do not have a “green passport.”
Personally, I have chosen to be vaccinated. So have my wife and my sons. We are healthy and safe and feel fine. We are not concerned that this is a trick or trap. We do not believe this has anything to do with some End Times plot against us. We realize there are risks. But we have obeyed the government request to get vaccinated for the sake of our own health and that of the nation. We are trusting the sovereign God of Israel to take care of us, even if there are long-term side effects. We don’t feel coerced. But we certainly understand and respect the concerns and hesitations others are having.
As I mentioned, at ALL ISRAEL NEWS, our staff members have a range of thoughts on this topic and each has chosen a different path. Yet we all respect each other's choices. And we agree on perhaps the most important element - we must maintain free, open and civil discourse, something that is sadly lacking when it comes to this issue.
Here is the full ICEJ statement. I encourage you to read it in full, share it and discuss it with others.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is being approached by Christians from many quarters worldwide for our views on Israel’s rapid mass vaccination program for the coronavirus, especially due to its use of the new mRNA messenger vaccines. Some have urgent concerns that the Israeli people may have seriously endangered themselves unknowingly, while others are even more alarmed by speculative theories that they are walking into a devilish trap with ‘Last Days’ implications.
Israel’s response to an unprecedented crisis
It is important to first note that Israel, like many other countries around the world, has faced an unprecedented health challenge with a lethal virus which has killed more than 2.6 million people worldwide. This includes close to 6,000 Israeli deaths over the past twelve months, which is six times more casualties than occurred during five years of brutal terrorism in the second Palestinian intifada. In addition, the corona lockdowns have caused severe damage to the Israeli economy, with the tourist industry in particular coming to a complete standstill for an entire year. Consequently, Israeli leaders across all party lines agreed that a swift national response was needed.
Because of the quick and decisive actions of the government from early on, Israel has proven to be a model nation for many other countries worldwide to follow, starting with timely usage of lockdowns and travel bans to safeguard its population from the virus. Israel also has been successfully developing new medical treatments to fight coronavirus, with research that has shown promising results. Thus, the death rate for corona patients in Israel remains one of the lowest in the world (below 1%), even though the infection rate has been among the highest. Overall, the Netanyahu government’s prompt and effective response to the virus has been largely recognised by rival political parties, the majority of Israeli society, and even many world leaders.
Israel’s decision to use mRNA vaccines
The decision by Israeli leaders to adopt the novel mRNA vaccines as a pathway out of the virus lockdowns was clearly driven by the unprecedented health crisis, aided by the Jewish tradition of preserving life and by the general attitude among Israelis of welcoming scientific and bio-medical advances. The 25-year record of promising research on mRNA vaccines by the international medical community, and early discussions between the government and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals helped Israeli leaders and medical professionals to make this prompt decision. Pfizer had put its new corona vaccines through a stringent testing phase on humans for short-term side effects, while the normally prolonged period of testing for long-term impacts had not yet been undertaken. But US authorities approved it for “emergency use”, and with the death rate climbing the Israeli government opted to take a calculated risk and use the mRNA vaccine on its population.
Today, Israel has become the most widely vaccinated nation in the world, with almost 90% of the adult population either vaccinated or immune due to recovery from COVID-19. The data so far indicates the vaccine is 97% successful in immunising against coronavirus, and the death rates among the most vulnerable elderly population have been radically reduced. By late May, Israel aspires to reach ‘herd immunity’ and return to fairly normal life, although some travel restrictions likely will remain in place to lessen potential exposure to new mutations of the virus. Israel also is on the way to issuing ‘green passports’ for those inoculated or recovered, which will mean those without the passport may have some temporary limits on their choices for social engagement.
Most Israelis have been cooperative with the government’s ambitious vaccination program, and the respected medical community here has been largely supportive of it as well.
Sorting truth from rumours
Meanwhile, there have been some alarming reports and theories circulating worldwide about Israel’s vaccination program which require additional clarification.
1) Israel’s current vaccination policy set by the government is nothing new, as a similar ruling was passed in Israel in 1952 when everyone was forced to be vaccinated against typhoid fever and failure to do so even incurred a monetary fine.
2) There are claims that the morbidity rates in Israel for those dying from the vaccinations far exceeds the rates among those dying from COVID-19. These assertions are unfounded, as data from all the Israeli health management organisations indicate. They also show that fewer vaccinated people are dying and the symptoms among those who still get the virus are weaker than among those who are not vaccinated.
3) Israel is not moving to become a segregated nation dividing its population into vaccinated and unvaccinated. Everyone in Israel is still free to refuse being vaccinated, although it may mean some temporary limitations on the choices they can make for movement and social engagement.
4) Some are associating the new ‘green passport’ with the ‘mark of the Beast’ spoken of in the Book of Revelation, and even suggest that Israel through the vaccine is welcoming the rule of the Antichrist over them. This is pure speculation at best. Vaccination passports (e.g., “the yellow passport” for international travel) have been in existence for decades, and travel to many countries in Africa is only possible with updated vaccines against yellow fever and other diseases. Also, the relevant passages in Revelation 13 underscore a blasphemous and anti-Christian agenda that will make ‘war with the saints’. In contrast, it is clear that Israel’s vaccination policy contains no religious or spiritual agendas except that of saving lives.
Of course, there are still legitimate concerns, questions and reservations as to the long-term side effects of the mRNA vaccines, and people rightly should have the choice to refrain from being vaccinated. We welcome that Israel is maintaining this freedom. However, our lack of knowledge on the long-term effects of these vaccines does not justify launching critical campaigns against Israel or accusing Israeli leaders of having sinister motives towards their own people. Rather, we should pray for them as they are dealing with an unprecedented health crisis and need our prayers more than ever.
Also, we do recognise that the worldwide scale and impact of this health crisis has opened the gates for concerted global initiatives that have no small potential to undermine democratic processes and could potentially be misused for future anti-Christian and discriminatory agendas. Still, Christians should not be living in fear of the coronavirus, and neither should we be living in fear of the corona vaccines. Rather, we need to have a healthy fear of God alone, who ultimately has rule over our lives and destiny (Isaiah 8:12-13).
Finally, we should not allow this crisis to divide us. I am aware that the above assessment will not be shared by everyone, and some might come to different conclusions. However, we should never allow the Body of Christ to be divided nor our love for God’s people to be determined by our limited understanding of a new type of vaccine. Paul instructed the Church in Rome not to allow the body of believers to be divided over the consumption of food dedicated to idols, while also encouraging those in the Church not to judge one another, since “if we live, we live for the Lord and if we die, we die to the Lord” (Romans 14:8). He also reminds the Roman believers that “the Kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
Whether or not to take any vaccine is an individual decision which should be done with proper medical advice from physicians you trust and be based on informed consent and one’s own conscience. We should all respect how others arrive at their own decisions, while also making sure we are all dealing with accurate, reliable information in our own discourse with others.
Again, please pray for Israel’s leaders in this difficult season, and also pray for us as we carry out our calling to stand steadfastly with Israel in times of crisis. Prayer can heal and protect. We have experienced this in our Home for Holocaust survivors in Haifa, which has been largely untouched by the coronavirus. People working in the health sector in Israel are calling this a ‘miracle’ for any assisted-living facility. Also, pray for us as we continue to serve all the people of Israel in the midst of these current challenges.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.