When Fergus Walsh, the BBC medical correspondent, commented recently that British scientists were considering starting their Covid-19 vaccine trials in Kenya if tests in the UK did not get the expected results, he might have not known his remark could or would attract a backlash from Kenyans. The outrage was similar to one that greeted a suggestion by two French scientists that vaccine trials should start in Africa given the lack of facilities and health support systems on the continent.
Kenyans’ exasperation over Walsh’s comment resulted in a government response stating no citizen would be used as guinea pig in vaccine trials and that Kenyans would be notified of any plans to conduct the tests in the country. It was also announced that local research institutions like the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) were working on their own vaccines and would collaborate with international partners.
So why did Walsh’s comment generate such heat?
It appears that the main problem was not the vaccine itself but the mistrust some Kenyans – and Africans in general – have concerning the developed world. Many have questioned the reason behind European scientists wanting to test the vaccine in Africa, which to date has not registered anywhere near the high number of positive coronavirus cases and deaths being reported in the West.
The mistrust is largely born of the bits and pieces of information, or misinformation, which have been doing the rounds especially on social media regarding the origin of the virus. There are those who have linked it to 5G technology; others say it signals the start of a new world older while still others believe it is an attempt by the United Nations to control the world’s population.
Such information is what led some people in England, Wales and Scotland to vandalise 20 phone masts early last month even though the masts did not have 5G equipment. Such is the power of fear and suspicion.
In Christian circles, some doomsday preachers have warned believers against accepting the Covid-19 vaccine, saying it is linked to the mark of the Beast (666) and spells doom for anyone who gets it. They have also alleged that the vaccine contains a radio-frequency identification (RFID) microchip. How they reached that conclusion even before the vaccine was developed is mind-boggling.
But Christian opposition to vaccines is nothing new. It dates back to the late 18th century when the smallpox vaccine was first introduced. Some members of the clergy said it violated religious principles because it used animal parts. Others voiced a lingering distrust for medicine or objected to a government-mandated vaccination as a violation of personal liberties.
In the end, smallpox was only eradicated because large enough numbers of people were inoculated so that the virus could no longer find a human host to spread to and develop in. Indeed, scientists argue that if it wasn’t for the high coverage rate of the smallpox vaccine, the disease would likely still be with us today.
The Roman Catholic Church has also been very vocal against the polio jab, stating it is unsafe for children. In 2015, the Church claimed the vaccine, sanctioned by the World Health Organisation and Unicef, was found to be contaminated in countries such as Nigeria.
In an article published in Christianity Today on April 26 last year, Rebecca Randall said for certain Christians, the decision to accept or reject vaccinations came down to the origins of the vaccines themselves. For example, some may be influenced by the fact that the use of foetal tissue from elective abortions is commonplace in the pharmaceutical industry and in medical research.
Randall said many American evangelicals – both in favour of vaccines and against – see their faith as compatible with science and the questions they raise over immunisations coincide with some distrust around the medical industry and human authority.
At the end of the day, while everyone is entitled to his or her opinion on accepting or rejecting vaccinations, it is absurd to make a judgement based on fear and false theories. If not dealt with, the misinformation on Covid-19 could hinder what might be an answer from God in the form of medical science.