In the spring of 2020, President Nelson said, “Let us prayerfully plead for relief from this global pandemic. I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray … that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened and life normalized.” We prayed. We fasted. What would an answer to this world-wide prayer look like?
God can answer prayers through inspiring each of us, using our unique talents and skills. God can bring about miracles of healing through inspiring doctors and scientists. President Nelson has told stories of being inspired to come up with new treatments as a doctor long before he was a leader in our church1. I have felt God’s inspiration in my own scientific career. When President Nelson was vaccinated, he said, “We have prayed frequently for this literal Godsend”. These vaccines can be the miraculous end to this pandemic. But the victory over coronavirus needs our participation. We learn about miracles requiring our participation In the Bible in 2 Kings chapter 5.
Naaman was afflicted with leprosy. An Israelite maid told him that the prophet Elisha could heal him. Naaman rushed to Elisha to ask for a miracle. Elisha told Naaman to go wash seven times in the river Jordan. Naaman was angry and left to go home. He did not want to go in that dirty river. He had expected a different kind of miracle. But a servant helped Naaman understand his part in the miracle. When Naaman washed seven times in the Jordan river, he was healed2.
Like President Nelson, I believe that these vaccines are the answer to world-wide prayer. I see the record speed that vaccines were developed and produced as miraculous. Scientists and doctors were inspired to work together in world-wide collaboration. They were inspired with ideas. As a scientist, I can see that if we all take these vaccines, our suffering from the pandemic will be over.
But many have concerns about taking the vaccines. Like Naaman, we look at the river and we say, “Why? How?” It’s normal to have questions about a new vaccine. This is where I feel inspired to help, to make that muddy water less intimidating. It helps to understand the miracle we are asking for and the enemy we are up against.
Coronavirus is like an army invading us. Its goal is to take over our bodies to strengthen its army. Our immune systems are our bodies’ defensive armies. Their job is to identify invaders and prevent them from taking over. A virus cannot make more of itself alone. It needs to infect people to survive and to build its army. Each time a virus infects someone, it makes millions more virus. In our bodies, a virus can mutate to make variants that are deadlier, more infectious, or able to cause severe illness in younger people. When we become infected, our bodies are working for the virus, until our immune systems can stop the virus.
If the coronavirus is not stopped by our immune systems, it will take over organs, so that they cannot function properly. Coronavirus infections can cause lungs, kidneys, hearts, and livers to fail. Coronavirus infections can cause strokes. In mild Covid-19 cases, coronavirus can cause many symptoms including long term fatigue, loss of taste and smell for months, blood clots to form, and hair to fall out two to five months after infection 3,4,5,6.
Once an infection is detected, the immune system builds a defensive army. This takes time, so we are infectious before we feel symptoms. Our bodies may raise body temperature to hurt the virus. Different viruses have different coats, or uniforms. If our immune system has not encountered a virus coat before, it can’t do anything to stop it. It doesn’t have the right tools to dismantle the virus. Our immune systems need a warning to recognize the threat.
Vaccines teach our immune systems how to recognize a decoration on the virus uniform. RNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) are the instructions to make that uniform decoration written in our bodies’ own language. Our bodies are full of RNA. RNA instructions break down within a couple of hours. It’s like a snapchat photo of the enemy. Then our immune systems build the defensive army: Immune cells detect and destroy the virus and make antibodies to prevent a virus from infecting us.
How do vaccines compare to other medications?
Medications like ibuprofen go through our body, bring down a fever, and help us feel better while a virus continues to damage our bodies, build its army, and infect others. A vaccine is teaching our immune systems to build tools to dismantle and destroy the virus. Our educated immune systems are the natural cure.
How can we show love for the least of these?
Vaccines are the best defense we have against a viral infection. Because a vaccine is teaching our immune system how to destroy the enemy, people who have weaker immune systems are still vulnerable to infection even after they are vaccinated. These people include pregnant women, elderly people, chemotherapy patients, and people taking immune suppressive drugs to treat auto-immune diseases. For these brothers and sisters, it is especially important that their community fights coronavirus for them7. We who have strong immune systems can build the weapons to dismantle the virus so that the virus cannot invade those we love.
Questions about vaccine safety:
I imagine Naaman looking tentatively into the River Jordan wondering if that water was safe for him. What would make a vaccine less intimidating? Knowing what is in it may help. The mRNA vaccines include the instructions for how to make part of a virus coat decoration, fats to help protect the mRNA and help it get into cells, salts, and sugar. How do we know if a vaccine is safe and effective? Before they were released to the U.S. public, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were shown to be safe in animals8,9,10,11. They were each shown to be safe in over 30,600 people including those who are at risk for severe Covid (56-90 years old)12,13,14,15.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines reduced coronavirus infections by about 90% in three hospitals that tested infection rates after vaccination, independent of clinical trials16,17. We might have felt anxious when we heard that the Johnson &Johnson vaccines were associated with blood clots in six out of almost 7,000,000 vaccinated people. It is more that 300 times more likely to get struck by lightning than to get a blood clot from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Blood clots have not been associated with vaccination by either the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccines out of more that 200 million doses given in the United States alone18. The pause in Johnson & Johnson administration for six people gives me confidence that the FDA will pause the roll-out of any vaccine if there is any doubt about safety.
When data about the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was first released, I felt this was the delivery from the pandemic we had been praying for, and felt that was confirmed by the church’s statement24. Helping people understand these vaccines felt like the reason for career guidance that is in my patriarchal blessing. I have been inspired with ideas about how to communicate difficult concepts. It has been difficult to pull my mind back to my career or anything else since December. As I answered questions for people I love, I realized I could be of more service if I shared presentations in my ward, my stake, my children’s schools, and for public libraries. People asked that I record my presentations to share. (These can be found here below the Q&A)
Will the Covid-19 vaccine impact my fertility? Women became pregnant during the clinical trials for Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines25. Babies from these pregnancies have now been born with antibodies that may protect the babies from Covid-1926. These vaccines cannot sterilize a woman. For more about questions about Covid-19 vaccines in fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding: https://youtu.be/1DjGCz5a7OI
Can the vaccine be used to track me? The internet, social media websites, GPS devises, and smart phones track us. The microchips currently available for tracking are not small enough to fit through the needle that is used for vaccinations. These vaccines cannot track us.
What are the side effects of Covid-19 vaccines? It is common to feel soreness at the injection site as immune cells rush to the area to “learn” about the enemy from the snap chat message. Our immune system may also raise our temperature, or we may feel tired and achy for a day or two. This can occur as our body builds a defensive army against a new threat. These are signs of a healthy immune response, not illness. Most people have no side effects other than soreness at the injection site.
How do we know if something bad happened because of the vaccine or some other cause? Strokes and death occur throughout the world every day. These events are tragic and scary. When a person had a stroke or other health problem within a few weeks of being vaccinated, we wonder if the vaccine may have caused the stroke. The frequency of these health problems occurring in people who are vaccinated is not above the frequency of these events occurring in people who are not vaccinated. In fact, because the vaccine prevents Covid-19 and Covid-19 causes strokes, it is more likely that a person will have a stroke or die if he/she is not vaccinated.
How do I know who to trust about vaccine information? Scientific articles are “peer reviewed”. This means that the data and the article are examined carefully by people who do not have a monetary or other vested interest in the article being published. The articles must pass these critiques before being published. I have linked primary research that has passed these critiques in this article. We can also be confident that our Prophet, who has formal medical training and a strong scientific career was well-prepared to receive guidance during this particular time. God inspires people to accomplish miracles on Earth.
- Holy Bible 2 Kings chapter 5, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/ot/2-kgs/5?lang=eng
Dr. Emily Bates is an Latter-day Saint mother who served a mission in Geneva, Switzerland. Inspired by career guidance in her patriarchal blessing, Emily earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from the University of Utah and earned her PhD from the Biomedical and Biological Sciences program at Harvard Medical School. She taught cell and molecular biology as a teaching fellow at Harvard College and pharmacology at UCSF. As a professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at BYU, Provo, she earned an award for developing a curriculum for an RNA and DNA lab course. Dr. Bates is currently a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.