The Vancouver Sun reports…
“The pastor for the community at the centre of the Fraser Valley measles outbreak says he sees vaccines as an interference with God’s providential care.
Rev. Adriaan Geuze says his 1,200-strong Reformed Congregation of North America in Chilliwack mostly shares that view, which is why vaccination rates in the community are “very low.”
“We leave it in (God’s) hands. If it is in his will that somehow we get a contagious disease, like in this case the measles, there are other ways, of course, to avoid this. If (we get sick), he can also heal us from it,” he said in an interview Friday.
Health officials last weekend confirmed two cases of measles and identified up to 100 suspected cases at a religious school in Chilliwack where vaccination rates are low. On Thursday, the Fraser Health Authority advised that the measles had spread into the general populations of Chilliwack and Agassiz and said it would open special vaccination clinics in those communities over the weekend.
To date, one nine-year-old child has been hospitalized as a result of the outbreak.
Measles is a potentially fatal viral infection characterized by a rash, high fever, runny nose, coughing and tiny spots inside the mouth.
A vaccination rate of 95 per cent is necessary in order for community immunity to work, said Fraser Health spokeswoman Tasleem Juma, adding that in the East Fraser region, vaccination rates are about 60 to 70 per cent.
Geuze counters that there is no need to make a healthy “God-given” body “a little bit sick” through vaccination.
He does not oppose other means of boosting immunity, such as rest, healthy living and eating well. Nor does the church oppose medical treatment when a person is already sick, he added.
Asked if he actively advises his congregants not to vaccinate their children, Geuze responded: “Of course I openly express my own point of view according to the Bible, absolutely. But it’s not that we force them. It’s through their own conscience that they have to act,” he said. “They expect that from me, that in a clear way I lay it all before them.”
Opinions on whether or not to vaccinate, however, are divided within the Fraser Valley’s Christian community.
Rev. Abel Pol of Chilliwack’s Canadian Reformed Church said that while he has never surveyed the church’s 400-plus membership on the issue, he suspects that most if not all the congregation is in favour of vaccinations.
“My 15-month-old son has been vaccinated, and I certainly hope everyone else would vaccinate their children as well,” he said in an emailed statement.
Pol said those who oppose vaccinations on religious grounds commonly quote the same passage of the Bible, Matthew 9:12, part of which reads:
“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus was not making a statement regarding vaccinations, but stating a general principle regarding the behaviour of people in order to illustrate a theological point, Pol said.
“Such misreading also takes place when other passages are invoked in a similar vein. Someone begins with their personal opinion and then attempts to back it up with Scripture, as opposed to letting the plain meaning of Scripture speak for itself.”
But most people, like Geuze, who oppose vaccination on religious grounds do so because they see it as an attempt at evading the providence of God, Pol said. It’s a false dichotomy to compare to what extent medical knowledge and technology should be used to combat disease and to what extent people should depend on the providence of God, he argued.
“It implies that when we avoid exercising control over particular situations (such as the health of our children) we are submitting to the providence of God, as if the two are mutually exclusive,” he said.
“This is a life in which we are called to exercise our moral responsibility while recognizing our ultimate dependence on him as our creator God.”
Taken to its logical conclusion, that argument also implies refusing all medical treatment and not taking steps to prevent disasters from happening, such as putting a fence around a swimming pool to prevent children from falling in, Pol said.
“Why stop at refusing vaccinations? To be consistent, you would have to refuse all medical help. You would never take steps to prevent any disaster from happening,” Pol said. “It is arbitrary to refuse one preventive measure on the grounds that it prevents Christians from depending on God’s providence, while accepting the other.”
Measles is the most infectious of all diseases and transmitted through airborne spread, said Monika Naus, a medical director at the BC Centre for Disease Control. It is easily preventable through vaccination.
Children under five are most at risk of serious disease from measles and should obtain the vaccine from a family doctor or public health clinic, Fraser Health advised in a news release. Older children and adults should get the vaccine through a family doctor or pharmacy.”