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Southern African Bishops Dispel COVID-19 Vaccine Fear, Say Jab is "a safe risk”

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Members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have sought to address concerns around the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a statement shared with ACI Africa June 5, the President of SACBC, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, blames the low uptake of the vaccine on the safety and ethical concerns that he says have been raised, creating reluctance among the people and urges the people of God in South Africa to get vaccinated.

“Some people and groups have expressed a few safety and ethical concerns around the COVID-19 vaccines. These have caused a number of people refusing or expressing a reluctance to accept the vaccine,” SACBC members say in the statement dated June 4.

The first is the concern that vaccines usually take a long time to be produced as a lot of research and tests are required. 

“COVID-19 has taken less than a year to produce, and the question is ‘is it really genuine and effective?’” the Bishops pose.

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According to SACBC members, different “trusted” South African scientists have assured the people that research on COVID-19 was done faster with large numbers of people ensuring safety and efficacy measurements were not compromised.

They urge the people to find reassurance in scientists who said, “The trials were totally ethically and scientifically sound and the licensing completely thorough.”

Further, scientists in South Africa have acknowledged that the speed of development of the vaccines has been “a reflection of the level of scientific advancement that we are now at rather than that it was in any way recklessly rushed through.”  

In the statement, SACBC members make reference to a section of the Christian community who they says have strongly argued that the vaccine is not from God but is part of the “new world order” governed by the devil and has 666, the “mark of the beast” mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

And now, the Bishops say, many fear that by taking the vaccine, they will be forced to take the ‘mark of the beast.’

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“This association of the vaccine with the ‘mark of the beast’ is based on a wrong and fundamentalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation and ignores the historical and biblical context,” SACBC members warn in the statement signed by the Bishop of South Africa’s Umtata Diocese.

Fear of the CPOVID-19 vaccine has also been constructed on the concern that the vaccine is a ploy by the rich industrialized nations of the West to reduce the global population through the elimination of the black race.  

“This theory is baseless. In fact, vaccines are not new. Vaccines have been a reality for all of us from birth, including vaccines against polio, measles and many others,” the Bishops say.

Further dispelling the fear that the vaccine will change people’s DNA, they say, “The COVID-19 Vaccine is not made of DNA elements and therefore cannot change our genetic code.” 

There has also been the ethical concern that the COVID-19 vaccine is made from aborted fetuses, an allegation that the Catholic Bishops do not entirely refute. 

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“It is true that some vaccines including COVID-19 Vaccine originally included a protein sourced from a foetus but there is no evidence that current vaccines are directly made out of foetal tissue, nor is it true that foetuses were intentionally harvested to make the COVID-19 vaccine. Yet, the use of foetus cell lines at one stage of the development of COVID-19 vaccine remains an ethical problem,” SACBC members say.

On the side-effects of COVID-19 vaccinations including clotting, they acknowledge that some people have indeed reacted to the jab, with some experiencing pain, swelling, fatigue, headaches, fever, muscle and joint pain.

The Bishops note that just like with other medications, side effects eventually go away.

“A few cases of blood clotting have also been reported and even fewer, less than one percent, have died after taking the vaccine, but there is no conclusive evidence that less than 1 percent of vaccinated people have died from the vaccine, so it is a safe risk to take the vaccine,” they say.

They further say the fact that Pope Francis as well as other leaders in the Church have been vaccinated should be motivation enough for the people to go for the jab.

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“As Pope Francis has led by example when he got vaccinated, we should be encouraged to take the vaccine,” the Bishops say, and add, “Pope Emeritus benedict XVI and a large number of Religious Leaders across the world and here in South Africa have been vaccinated.”  

They underscore the need of the vaccine to be made available to all, saying, “Let us join the efforts for equitable distribution of the vaccine and call those rich countries hoarding COVID-19 vaccine to task so that this common good may be accessible to all.”

“We must all continue to pray for our health care workers and for all those who are assisting those in need at this time,” SACBC members say in their statement shared with ACI Africa.