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David Anderson & Francis Collins | How Christians Can End the Pandemic

Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. David Anderson join in conversation about how Christians can bring about the end of the pandemic.


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young person getting bandaid after vaccine

Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. David Anderson join in conversation about how Christians can bring about the end of the pandemic.

Description

Polling data tells us Christians are the most hesitant group in the United States about receiving the COVID-19 vaccines. Yet research on the vaccines show that they are incredibly safe and effective. It’s clear that if we want to get past this pandemic, our Christian community needs a radical reorientation based on sound evidence and an abundance of grace. Offering perspectives rooted in Biblical faith, Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. David Anderson join in conversation about how Christians can bring about the end of the pandemic. Dr. Collins brings a depth of scientific knowledge alongside Dr. Anderson’s pastoral wisdom to talk about the vaccine and the hesitancy many people harbor about the vaccines. In doing so, these renowned spiritual leaders lay the groundwork for Christians to build bridges toward healing and change.

Before You Read

Dear reader,

We’ll get right to it: Young people today are departing the faith in historic numbers as the church is either unwilling or unable to address their questions on science and faith. BioLogos is hosting those tough conversations. Not with anger, but with grace. Not with a simplistic position to earn credibility on the left or the right, but a message that is informed, faithful, and hopeful.

Although voices on both sides are loud and extreme, we are breaking through. But as a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of donors like you to continue this challenging work. Your tax deductible gift today will help us continue to counter the polarizing narratives of today with a message that is informed, hopeful, and faithful.

Transcript

Stump:

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Jim Stump. 

Back when we started sharing conversations on the podcast about COVID, we never thought we’d still be doing this kind of episode more than a year later. But the pandemic is still here. There are still about 1000 people dying from COVID every day in this country, and at least ten times that many around the world. And for those who don’t die from the virus, it now looks like at least ⅓ will have long-term health problems. 

But the good news is that there is a way out of this: we have vaccines that are incredibly effective at preventing the disease and vastly mitigating the symptoms. A lot of effort went into developing and producing these marvels of modern medicine. And perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there now needs to be a lot of effort put into convincing people to take them. Because of the way the lines have been drawn in our culture, we know that simply throwing out more facts and scientific journal articles isn’t going to change many minds. People need to hear reliable information from trusted voices. And because Christians are the group most hesitant to get the vaccine, those voices need to be trusted, Christian voices.

The conversation in today’s episode was hosted by BioLogos president, Deb Haarsma about the faith and science of the vaccine with Francis Collins and David Anderson. Francis Collins, of course, is the Director of the National Institutes of Health and coordinating the government’s effort in the development of the vaccines. He’s also a committed Christian, the Founder of BioLogos, and has been on this podcast a number of times. David Anderson is the Pastor of Bridgeway Community Church in Maryland, a multicultural congregation of more than 10,000 people, and the host of the daily radio talk show, “Real Talk with Dr. David Anderson.”

Together they bring scientific credibility, pastoral wisdom, and an authentic Christian witness to these times we’re still living in. We hope you might share this episode with people who need to be reassured that the vaccine is God’s gift to us through science.

Let’s get to their conversation.

Interview Part One

Haarsma:

Dr. Anderson, let’s start with you just a little bit. You’ve had me on your radio show a few times to talk about astronomy to talk about vaccines. Are you a bit of a science fan? Or why is it important to talk about science and medicine as a Christian leader?

Anderson:

Well, thanks, Deb, I would consider myself a bridge builder and so if I can build bridges between different groups of people, that brings me great joy. And being a bridge builder between faith and science is so important, because they really don’t have to be at odds with one another. And so I think that having you on the show, and having these kinds of conversations will help people who weren’t brought up with a lot of science to realize that they’re not disowning their faith, just because they’re learning facts about science. And then it helps on the scientific side to know you don’t have to be afraid of people of faith. They’re not Boogey Men who don’t have a mind. So like you, like Dr. Collins, I’m a bridge builder.

Haarsma:

That’s so important, that bridge building. We’ve worked to do that at BioLogos. And it’s been so great to partner with you and the incredible gift that you have for bridge building. Dr. Collins, talk a little bit about how that bridge looks in your own life. You’re a scientist, but for people listening who haven’t met you before, can you talk a little about your faith and how your faith intersects with your scientific work?

Collins:

Yeah, I’d be glad to. Yes, I am a scientist and a physician, I’ve had this wonderful privilege of leading efforts like the genome project, and now the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, the National Institutes of Health, but I’m a follower of Jesus. People think that that might be somehow a difficult thing to put together and that you might encounter experiences where your head exploded because you couldn’t put these worldviews into the same issues. I have not found that to be the case at all. Now, I didn’t grow up in a faith tradition. My parents weren’t really interested in those things. And I was an atheist, by the time I was a graduate student. And then as a medical student encountering experiences of life and death, I realized I had some work to do to figure out, why do people believe? And why does science not really help me with questions like why am I here? And is there a god? And what happened before there was something? And why is there something instead of nothing? And all of those questions that I decided were pretty interesting, and which couldn’t be addressed with a purely naturalistic perspective. And so somewhat kicking and screaming, over a two year effort of trying to understand the nature of belief, and led, in many ways by someone who had traveled that path before merely, namely CS Lewis, I ended up becoming a Christian, to my great surprise, at age 27. And yet, over the last 44 years, I have yet to encounter a circumstance where what I believe is a very serious Christian who tries to read the Bible every morning and what I know as a scientist who won’t accept your data about nature unless you have really defended it, I’ve never seen those to be in conflict. And COVID-19 certainly presents us with an experience where both of those have a lot to offer. Yes, we do have as people of faith, a great deal of work to do here to understand the pain and the suffering and to go through what appropriately would be called a time of lament. But we also have the opportunity to build upon the strengths that science is able to give us, that God has given us the grace to be able to understand, and to bring those tools forward to try to help those who are suffering and try to heal this disease and heal our land and heal our planet from what has been the worst outbreak of infectious disease in 103 years.

Haarsma:

It’s so true. We need both. We need both the scientific information and the Christian faith, that science alone is not enough. I’ve been a little frustrated how often people just say, “trust science,” as if that is the last or only word in this matter when there’s so many more factors that we need to think of. Science isn’t what gives us hope. It’s Jesus Christ, who gives us hope 

Anderson:

Amen. 

Haarsma:

So we have a ton of questions here on the list. So we probably should get to it. We’re going to start with some of the medical and science issues, and then we’ll broaden out to these larger questions. But faith will be with us all of the way here. So Dr. Collins, I have heard some people saying they don’t plan to get vaccinated because God designed the body to heal itself. But with a vaccine, the body is doing something right? So can you tell us how vaccines work and how did God design our bodies to make use of it?

Collins:

Well, first, let me say I understand that perspective. And one of the things I’ve learned over the course of the last year is when people are concerned about vaccines and whether that’s something that would be good for them and their family in their community. The first thing I need to do is listen, and listen and understand what those concerns are about because they’re different from person to person. This argument, that in fact God has designed the human body in an amazing way is absolutely true. And it’s something that I marvel at every day as a physician and a scientist. But I also know that the body is under attack, sometimes from outside influences, and this virus is one of those. For people who are able to see the actual videocast, I’m holding up a model of this Coronavirus, which got somehow into our species, presumably from a bat, where it maybe should have stayed, but didn’t. And so it’s this spherical object with these spiky proteins on the surface of it. And those spiky proteins are the way in which the virus manages to get inside your cells, because it has sort of a lock and key ability to find a cell in your airway, and then get inside and start copying itself. The way the vaccine works, is to utilize what we’ve learned about this virus to generate antibodies just against that spike protein. So the vaccines provide you with the opportunity to become immune to those spike proteins without having to be exposed to the whole virus. This is really important. None of the vaccines include the intact virus, because that might be a risk of actually giving you the disease. None of them do that. They only allow your immune system to see that spike protein, and to be primed to be ready if it ever comes along later, in the form of that virus to be able to go after it. 

So whether you’re talking about the Pfizer vaccine, or the Moderna vaccine, or the J&J vaccine, they all use that same principle. And it’s an elegant way to take the incredible intricacy of our immune system, which if you study it, you can’t help but be in awe of what God has made possible here, and prime it to be ready to face off against something terrible, just like we have been doing now down through the centuries with smallpox, with polio. People who are listening to this who are around, as I was, in the 1950s, when polio was paralyzing lots of kids, they were praying every day for a vaccine to come forward. And finally it did. And look, now there’s a few cases of polio still in the world and we need to wipe them out, but that has just not been a concern of parents in the United States recently. It’s that same approach. And for me, as a believer, who’s also a scientist, this seems like a gift from God. This is God’s grace that has given us the ability to understand how this works, and to be able to design an approach. And it feels like God is giving us a chance to be his healers. God has provided that as an opportunity. And when you consider how much time Jesus spent, and what we know about the short time of his life that’s written about in the New Testament, an awful lot of that time was healing. And I think we were supposed to notice that. And he charged the apostles to do healings as well. I think we’ve all kind of been called when we have the chance to heal those who are sick and prevent terrible illness and death. And that’s where we are right now.

Haarsma:

Ah, a Jesus healing ministry. We can all be part of continuing that. That’s wonderful. Dr. Anderson, what would you like to hear Dr. Collins address on COVID and vaccines? You’re hearing a lot of things in your community. Where should we go next?

Anderson:

What you know, people have questions that are very practical one a ground level. The science is amazing. But then you also have the everyday person who’s like, “okay, you tell me, it’s fine, it’s fine. But even if I believe it’s fine, what does it mean if I’m pregnant or if I’m breastfeeding?” Like we did vaccinations at my church on Wednesday, and the husband came and got vaccinated. I’d say, “how’s your wife doing?” His response was, “well she’s breastfeeding.” And she just wasn’t sure if she should get the vaccine or not. So at that point, it was more like a practical, should I or shouldn’t I? So let me ask you, Dr. Collins, if a woman’s pregnant, if a woman’s breastfeeding, should I tell her to come next Wednesday when we’re doing vaccinations as a pastor or should I say, “hang on wait, we’re not quite sure”?

Collins:

All the evidence is that these vaccines are totally safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which is the official organization of the most sophisticated doctors who take care of pregnant women is making it very clear they think women who are pregnant should take advantage of the vaccine. We’ve now had tens of thousands of pregnant women who have been immunized already. Some of them now have already delivered babies. And there has been no signal of any sort that there’s an issue here. And likewise, we do not think breastfeeding is a risk at all. It may be that if the woman has been immunized and now has antibodies to protect themselves against COVID-19 that some of those will pass to the baby through breastfeeding, and so the baby will also be protected. That’s a positive thing. 

There’s a website I like to tell people about, which has recently been put up—the best website, frankly, to go to is the CDC, but it’s a complicated place and people who are a little skeptical about the government maybe don’t think that’s the place that they want to look. Go look at a website called getvaccineanswers.org that’s get-vaccine-answers—all one word with no spaces—dot org. And you’ll see some videos and some straightforward, simple answers to the questions that a lot of people ask. And I totally respect what the people in your church are doing. And Dr. Anderson, let me say, I think it’s fantastic that your church has stepped up here, to not only talk about the value of vaccines, but actually make it possible for people to come there and have the opportunity to get immunized, in case it was difficult for them to find the right place. Because it’s been a little hard for people to figure out, how do I get lined up for this. And for you to do that, and for a lot of other churches I’m hearing about, to step up to this, I just think that is a wonderful way for the church to get engaged in trying to get us through this and to do that healing effort, which I think we’re all called to do. Good for you.

Anderson:

Thank you so much. It was really cool to see this pop up in our parking lot. People drive through, they get the shot in the arm while they’re in their car, they wait for 15 minutes and then our prayer team goes up to him and says, “how was it and is there any way I can pray for you?” Ninety percent of the people were like, “thank you so much, no one’s even ever asked me that!” So they drive away, hopefully physically touched, as well as spiritually touched.

Collins:

That’s just wonderful. Pastor, let me ask you, because I do get this question. And I’m probably not in as good a position as you are. When you have somebody in your church or somebody you encounter on the street who says, “you know, isn’t it sort of like not trusting God completely if I decide to get that vaccine? I mean, if God wanted me to get through this without getting sick, wouldn’t that be enough?” How do you answer that when somebody puts the question in those terms?

Anderson:

I’m going to put some dirt and mud and water and then I’m going to give it to you in a glass. Does that take faith? Drink it. You see there’s a difference between faith and wisdom. Right? And so you can trust God and drink the dirty water and hope that you don’t get sick. But wisdom says you know what, clean water is better than dirty water. And it’s the same with regard to the vaccine. Having faith and not taking the vaccine, or having faith and taking the vaccine—they’re both faith. But the question is not about faith, the questions about wisdom. Right? And so there’s no scripture that says, make sure you purify water before you drink it. But because we have wisdom, we say, “you know what, drinking contaminated water is not good for people regardless of where they live on the earth. So let’s get clean drinking water for all people and do whatever it takes in order to help them not get sick.”

Collins:

That’s really helpful. I like that a lot. I’ve used a case well, do you put on your seatbelt when you get in their car? And most people will say, “Yeah, I do.” Well, does that mean you don’t trust God to keep you out of an accident? Well, no, it’s just a good thing to do. Well, okay. Now I think we’re in the same place. with a vaccine.

Anderson:

Yeah, well, what’s interesting, too, is we’re going to have some people who are vaccinated and some people who are not right. And so I was at a family function with 10 people over Easter, and two of the young people in their 20s had not been vaccinated, but my mother, sister, and everybody else had been. And so the question is, how do we relate to them? So we kept masks on. But I think that that’s going to be an ongoing thing where we’re going to have these mixed groups. Any thought, Dr. Collins, on how do you relate to people who are not or will not be vaccinated along with the people who are vaccinated?

Collins:

That’s a great question. First, let me say that the opportunities now to be able to gather together with people who are all vaccinated and to take your masks off and break bread together is such a relief. I have to tell you my first experience with this was just yesterday because Diane, my wife, and I have been so careful and she just got through her immunization two doses and her two weeks. And we invited a friend who I haven’t seen in quite a few months to come to our house for breakfast, a wonderful man of God. And it was interesting. He’s also fully immunized. He walks in the door and we’re both a little bit like, ahh. He’s still got his mask on. And then he started to realize, oh, I could take this off. And then he started to stick out his elbow for me to bump his elbow, because that’s what we would have done before. And I said, “Oh, come on Jerome.” And so we had the biggest bear hug. And it was the most wonderfully happy moment of joy and celebration that yeah, this is starting to get better. But if all of us hadn’t been immunized, I would not have been able to do that. And for right now to answer your question, because we still don’t know for sure whether those who have been vaccinated might still be able to carry the virus even without symptoms. That means if you’re in mixed company, where there are other people who are not vaccinated, they potentially then could be infected and they could spread it and this could go on and on. So our best hope for this is to get to the point where we have more and more gatherings, where everybody’s immunized, and we can take off our masks and begin to have experiences that we all long for, which have been far too long coming back.

Haarsma:

And we long for that day so much. That day is closer than it would have been without the incredible work you’ve done, Dr. Collins, on developing the vaccine so quickly. Now, I have some ideas like the inside of that, of how so many researchers just dropped everything to work on it. But it’s very concerning to a lot of people. I heard somebody say, “well, anytime somebody gives me something fast and free, I worry a little bit,” you know. So tell us how we can have confidence in these vaccines, despite the rapid timeline? 

Collins:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I do think a lot of people wonder about this, especially because of the name that was given to this project, about a year ago calling it operation work speed. I mean, it was supposed to convey that this is an urgent and emergent situation. And we should not waste a single day in getting these vaccines tested and if possible, approved. But it did kind of convey the idea that maybe we’re going to be cutting corners. Let me tell you, as the Director of the National Institutes of Health, I was absolutely and still am deeply engaged in this hour by hour. And there were no corners cut at all, in terms of the safety and the efficacy of these vaccines. What we were able to do was to cut out a lot of the bureaucracy, a lot of the down times in between the various phases of developing and testing a vaccine, which normally causes it to stretch out over four or five years. And because we didn’t have that time, we were not happy with doing operation slow mode, we really wanted to move this at the maximum it ever has been. And succeeded in doing so. But if people are worried about whether we ended up with vaccines that really should be considered safe, the data is all out there. And that’s another thing we did, we made this the most transparent evaluation of these vaccines that’s ever happened. All of the data from trials of at least 30,000 people were assessed in open public meetings with all the information there for everybody to look at and debate. And only after that, did the FDA make a decision about whether these were safe and effective. And those began to be distributed then in December. 

So I can’t tell you enough just how amazing this was that this got done in 11 months. And I cannot say enough about the scientists who really dropped everything, worked 24/7, to make this happen, not worrying about who is going to get the credit or whether anybody is going to make any money. Let’s just try to figure out how we’re going to save lives. And it turned out better than most of us dared to hope. I guess back about August or September, somebody would ask me, “well, what would be a good enough vaccine for you to feel like, okay, this is going to be a good step forward.” I would say, “you know, if we got 60% effective, that would still be about as good as a flu vaccine. And I would take that.” And we got 95%. When the data was all there, I gotta tell you, I was an emotional moment. I lost quite a few tears when this emerged. This is such an answer to prayer, that we not only have something that’s going to help, it’s really good. And it’s really safe. And I hope people have heard that. There’s so much noise out there, especially in social media, and much of it from people who have an agenda of another sort. But look at the evidence and you will see this is an incredible gift.  But you got to unwrap the gift. It’s going to help you and your family and your community and the way you unwrap the gift is you roll up your sleeves. And we still have a ways to go.

Anderson:

Dr. Collins, let me restate just to make sure people heard what you said. and that is this: you’re saying that with this vaccine, there were no corners cut when it comes to the scientific development of it. The only thing that was cut was bureaucracy. 

Collins: 

That’s right. 

Anderson:

That’s what helped us to get it so quickly. Would you also say that there was work being done on this for many years prior to this time?

Collins:

Yeah, thank you for that, because I do think that’s really important. Particularly this new vaccine that’s based on something called mRNA. People think maybe that was just invented in January 2020 because oh, my gosh, here comes a new pandemic, we better do something. The technology for that has been under development for 25 years, bit by painful bit, figuring out how to make this work, eventually showing it worked in animals building, then, a vaccine against a different virus, the MERS virus, which caused some pretty terrible sickness in the Middle East, which fortunately, didn’t come to the US. And then here comes the COVID-19 virus, which is part of that same family, and it’s like, “we know what to do.” But it’s because of 25 years of work, we know what to do. And that vaccine was defined, was developed, was designed in the space of about 48 hours, because of all that fundamental information, which was a great place to be. That’s really important. People think that maybe science just sort of happens all of a sudden. Almost nothing I’ve ever been involved in happened all of a sudden, it’s built over years and years standing on the shoulders of previous scientists who have made discoveries, and then you take it to the next level.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Hey Language of God listeners. If you enjoy the conversations you hear on the podcast, we just wanted to let you know about our website, biologos.org, which has articles, videos, book reviews, and other resources for pastors, students, and educators. We also have an active online forum. We discuss each podcast episode, but it goes far beyond that, with lots of open discussions on all kinds of topics related to science and faith. Find it all at biologos.org.

Interview Part Two

Haarsma:

So Dr. Anderson, you pointed out ahead of time a couple of other concerns and questions you’re hearing— 

Anderson:

Well, there’s a couple of big ones. One is around the the cell lines and fetal tissue with regard to abortion, anti-abortion folks, pro-life folks. In fact, I got a long email today about it, and also radio comments about that. And the other one is about color or race. So why don’t we go with the abortions? So religion and race, you know, those things always create tension. So let’s go with the religion first. Was the vaccine developed because it was using aborted fetuses?

Collins:

I know people are quite concerned about this, I totally understand that. And that deserves a really clear answer. There are fetal cell lines that have been in use in laboratories for 40 or 50 years that were derived from elective pregnancy terminations, in Scandinavia, back in the 60s and 70s. And then a cell line, which is basically cells that will grow in the laboratory indefinitely, was derived from those terminations, and has been used in many laboratories, and particularly, in making vaccines for a long time. Now, is it complicit for a Christian who’s pro-life to take advantage of a vaccine that has had some use of those fetal cell lines? Reasonable people will disagree on that. Let me be clear, there are no abortions involved in these vaccines. There are no fetal tissues involved in these vaccines, the sole connection is to these immortal cell lines that have been growing in laboratories for the last 40 or 50 years from something that happened back then. I can also tell you– 

Anderson:

And a cell line, a fetal cell line, could you be so kind to help me like I’m a fourth grader here, what’s a fetal cell line and how is that different?

Collins:

So in this—in both of these instances, they were able to take cells and one instance from the kidney—I can’t remember what the other one was—of the aborted fetus and put it into a petri dish, and gave it various kinds of nutrients to see whether those cells would still grow outside of the body. And they did. And they continue to. So it is an ongoing cell line derived from that single aborted fetus, 40 or 50 years ago, that is very useful because it’s kind of a little biochemistry factory, if you want to try to figure out something about human cells, because it is a human cell. Now, the messenger RNA vaccines, that would be Pfizer and Moderna, do not utilize those cell lines for their manufacturer. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has to be grown in such a cell line in order for it to be properly produced. And so it is grown in one of those lines, the one from about 1974. I noticed that the Catholic Church has thought a lot about this. And that’s obviously very strongly pro-life perspective. And the Vatican has indicated that they believe it is entirely ethical for Catholics to take advantage of these vaccines, although they think it would be better if you took advantage of one that wasn’t grown in a fetal cell line. If that all you have available to you is one that is, that that is totally acceptable. So, again, I think the main concern I have is that this has been blurred out to the point where people think they’re using actively, recently obtained abortion material for these vaccines. Absolutely not. It’s this long term connection. And it only applies to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as far as the manufacturer.

Anderson:

So decades ago, we had aborted fetuses, that’s already done. There are no new abortions or recent abortions that we’re using for this. It’s already happened, way before us, decades ago. And so now some of these cell lines that have been taken from those fetuses are sitting there and being used for science. So then my ethical concern is, is it okay for me to use something from someone, decades ago, in Scandinavia? That really is what my choice is that I need to be thinking through, as opposed to thinking, wow, someone’s someone just aborted their baby, five years ago, and now that’s why we’re able to get this vaccine so quickly.

Collins:

Right. No, you’ve stated it very well. And again, of the three vaccines that are approved in the US, two of them do not involve growth in these fetal cell lines Pfizer and Moderna. Only the Johnson & Johnson one does. 

Anderson:

Got it. Thank you for being so clear on that. And Deb Haarsma, would it be okay for me to jump right over to the race?  

Haarsma:

Yeah, yeah, let’s be sure and talk about that.

Anderson: 

Well, you know, religion and race, right? So then, you know, that there are many people in the African American community who are having a hard time saying yes to vaccinations because of distrust of, quote unquote, the system. And it’s not just this phantom system, there was reality back in the 30s, with regard to the Tuskegee experiments, and others, and so people still remember that—my mom was born in 1933. And she’s still alive, and you know—and so people remember these things, and it’s a part of our history and heritage. As an African American who’s a pastor, I want to be able to be confident to let black and brown people know that this is good for you. This doesn’t have some kind of conspiratorial agenda behind it from the white man trying to kill black folk. My relationship with you and Deb is important here, to talk about this. And I know you have friends and loved ones and people in your life who are people of color. But can you help us out here by talking about those that were a part of the process of helping this vaccination come to life?

Collins:

Pastor, thank you for raising the issue and stating it so clearly. Yes, what happened with Tuskegee was a terrible blight on the ethics of medical research. We should remember it because it was such an egregious disregard for the rights of individuals, in this case, black men who were prevented from receiving a treatment for a treatable disease so that they could be observed for years. That never should have happened. President Clinton apologized for that very publicly, back in the late 1990s, but the memory remains and it should remain. And I can understand why African Americans who have heard of that might wonder when, here comes something else that’s coming out of medical research, how do we know this is good for us, too? And I worried about that a lot as we began to set up the trials for these vaccines. And to be honest, I think that companies that were running those trials, were anxious to enroll as many people as fast as they could, and weren’t working as hard as they maybe needed to, to reach out to those who might have been a little less likely to sign up. I can’t tell you how many Saturday morning, very intense conversations I led over the course of the summer in the fall with those companies, basically saying if you don’t enroll a diverse group as part of your trial, your trial basically will have failed. People have to look at the results of that trial and see themselves. And initially, there was a lot of resistance to that, but people got it after a while. Look at the Moderna trial, they started off with a smattering of black and brown people. By the time they had enrolled all 30,000, and really got with this as a priority, 37% of the people in that trial were people of color. And that means when you look at the data, you can see yourself, whatever your race or ethnicity, and you can see that it didn’t just work for the whole group. It worked for your group, too. That should be very reassuring. Again, it’s very transparent. That data is all out there. So I get it, why this is an issue. And I get it for another reason, Dr. Anderson, and that is, people can look right now at our healthcare system in the United States, and they can see that it is full of racial inequities. And again, why should they then say vaccines are being handled fairly when the rest of healthcare doesn’t seem to be? We have a lot of work to do there as well. And 2020 is going to be remembered for COVID-19. It’s also going to be remembered for George Floyd. And it’s going to be this moment where we all had to wake up to the fact, if we didn’t already know it, that racism is alive and well. And the structures of our society are still there supporting it, including our healthcare system. And we need to do something much more vigorous about that, and not assume that we’re post-racial. All of that kind of comes together here in the context of COVID-19, which has hit black and brown communities much harder than white communities, to the point of two or three fold increases in numbers of hospitalizations and deaths per capita. And that is shining a bright and very distressing light on health disparities that we have to address. So I’m pretty passionate about this. If there’s any place that we should be pulling out all the stops, to make vaccines available and to answer questions, it’s the people of color who have had the hardest go of it with this and have the most to gain by getting immunized and getting past this.

Haarsma:

Amen to all that. I’m so glad to hear those numbers about the Moderna trial about the number of people of color involved in it. It is so good to know that it was all of us who were in that trial. 

Collins:

I’m curious if I can ask Dr. Anderson, how things are going in your church now. You’re obviously putting a lot of your own effort into making it possible for people to receive immunizations. Yet, when I look at the polls, I see the two groups that are most resistant now are white evangelical Christians and Republican men. And the latter group certainly troubles me because it makes it sound as if politics has become a good reason to make a decision about health. And that doesn’t make a lot of sense, from my perspective. And yet white evangelicals, I think, again, are caught up in this perhaps suspicion of science, because we’ve had a complicated history here, in terms of whether science and faith could get along. Certainly, Deb Haarsma as the president of BioLogos would tell you, that’s the major thing that BioLogos is wrestling with. And I think we’re making some real progress there. But there are still those uncertainties about whether people of faith can accept science for what it says it’s doing, or whether there’s some atheistic agenda there, which is sometimes assumed to be the case. Maybe sometimes it is the case. But if science is about truth that shouldn’t be colored over by anything else. But how about in your church? How is it going in terms of do you have a lot of resistance? Are people coming around? What’s it like in the real world there?

Anderson:

Well, thanks. Because we have over 52 different nations that worship together, you’re going to get different groups who have different thought processes. And because I’m on a white evangelical conservative station, and daily radio during the afternoon drive in the nation’s capital, a lot of people have differing opinions on this. So what we found is we have to cast the net broadly. But we also must focus to try to help people individually and as groups. And I believe that comprehension begins with conversation. And so the more conversations we can have like this, and the conversations we have daily on radio, and with our congregants, through emails and through videos, the more conversations that we can have with credible local voices, is what’s going to help us at a micro level. Because macro voices cast a broad net, but then it’s back to those micro voices of, “pastor, I’m breastfeeding,” right? And so for me to be able to say to her or to her husband, “it’s okay.” Because if you say it from TV, they still might not know, is it really okay for me, even it’s okay for them. 

So this is why us partnering together is so very helpful because as I deal with people every single day, I realized that there’s a macro approach and there’s a micro approach and the kind of information that you and Deb Haarsma so many others from the faith community, the BioLogos community, the science community, the more you equip us, the more it helps me to be able to equip them. But that’s just the informative piece. What you also need is the practical piece. And that’s why doing vaccinations at the church now gives people an opportunity, not just to keep it in theory in their conversations, but to put it into action. And when they see me do it, when they see other leaders do it, and when they see that we’re promoting it, it actually really helps them say—like, I know one lady right now she’s listening and she did not take advantage of the vaccines that we had available last Wednesday. I say we have again next Wednesday. She said, “I don’t know if I’m gonna do it or not.” I said, “you make sure you’re on this webinar with Deb Haarsma and Dr. Collins,” and because when she listens to this, she’ll then say, “you know what, Pastor, I’ll be there Wednesday.”

Collins:

But you are so right, that voices like yours are the most important ones right now, to try to convey trust. You know, I know how I come across. I’m an old white guy who works for the government. Probably that’s not the kind of compelling voice that a skeptic in the black and brown community needs to hear from. They need to hear from you. And they need to hear from their doctors and their community leaders who have done as you are now doing the work of making sure they have the facts, and are willing to step up and convey those to people who are really looking for answers and need to hear them from somebody they know and they trust. And I’m just hoping we see a whole lot more of that in the next couple of months. Because this is a critical couple of months, pastor. We are not done with this coming out of the dark place yet. And if we can’t manage to get close to this magic number of maybe it’s 80%, 85% of our country being immunized, then this terrible pandemic could go on and on and on. And nobody wants that.

Anderson:

Well, and this is why our partnership is so important, because your voice—I know you say old white guy, government, but we need that, right? Because that’s going to hit—remember, it’s white men who are evangelicals. You’re like, yeah, we’re not gonna get this based on maybe politics or whatever. And so we need each other to communicate to one another and to each other. But in that vein, can I ask you a question about the credibility of Dr. Anthony Fauci? Deb Haarsma has said at times, you know, your her your doctor Fauci, his boss, you know him very well. He’s probably the most visible voice when it comes to this. It might be helpful for people to hear from me and to hear from you. Should we be listening to this guy?

Collins:

Well, yes, I absolutely think we should all be listening. I will talk to him later tonight, because I talk to him almost every evening. Yes, he does report to me, but he is probably the most highly respected expert in infectious diseases in the world. And he runs the part of NIH, which is focused on infectious disease and has done so for the last 37 years. So in terms of depth of knowledge and expertise, there’s nobody I would trust more than him to provide straight answers to questions. He has been incredibly visible. And when you’re that visible, there are going to be times where people don’t like what you say. And they’re going to be times where science tells you something that you didn’t know before. And so you have to change your recommendation on the basis of new knowledge. And that shouldn’t be a reason for people to say, “oh, you’re flip-flopping.” No, you’re actually providing more up to date information because we’ve learned more about this virus. We didn’t know a thing about this virus in January of 2020. We’ve been learning things at a prodigious rate. And that means that some of the recommendations that were made in the first couple of months, would no longer be correct. That’s the way it ought to be. And you wouldn’t want to be stuck into something based upon imperfect information if you could do better. But he has been criticized, I think, by those who want to find something to complain about. He’s not a political person. I know this really well. He avoids at all costs getting pulled into arguments that are political instead of scientific, but there’s certainly people who want to pull him into those arguments. So I would say yes, you can trust Dr. Fauci. Whatever he’s telling you, it is on the basis of the best information he’s got at that time. It is not a self serving moment. It’s a public servant moment. 

Haarsma:

That’s good to know.

Anderson:

Thank you. That’s good to hear.

Haarsma:

Now you are starting to talk, Francis, about the magic number we have to get to. We titled this session How Christians Can Help End the Pandemic. So to get there, we need this community immunity thing. Can you tell us a little more about that? And especially for people who are saying, “oh, well, I’m basically a healthy person. I don’t need the vaccine. That’s just for the people who live conditions and so forth.” So help us understand that.

Collins:

That’s a really great question. We’ve known from other pandemics, that the way in which something ultimately burns out is that 80% to 85% of the population end up immune. There are two ways to get there. One is they get the virus and recover from it, or else they don’t. And the other is the vaccine. The vaccine is a better way. We’ve already lost 560,000 lives just in the United States. And we don’t want to lose any more. But in order to get to that magic moment where the virus has lost an awful lot of people that can infect, and so it basically loses the chance to continue transmission, we need to get up to that 80% to 85% coverage. We’re on a path to get there, but only if people who are invited to receive the vaccine, most of them decide to say yes. Now think about this: this tells you that your decision about whether or not to be vaccinated is not just about yourself, it’s also about whether you’re going to be part of the overall solution for your community. In that regard, this is, as I’ve been saying in other places, this is a love your neighbor moment. Even if you think, you are yourself not likely to be much bothered by the virus if you happen to catch it, well, if you do, you are going to spread it to the next person. And if we haven’t reached the moment, where we have that 80% to 85% coverage, this is going to go on and on. And your actions could result in the death of another person. So I don’t mean to overstate this too much, but it’s really the case, we do have a corporate communal responsibility to look out after each other. And part of that is to roll up your sleeves, even if you don’t think you need it, do it for your neighbor, do it for your people down the street, do it for people who are immune-suppressed, who aren’t going to be able to respond to the vaccine and who are—they’re much more vulnerable and counting on the rest of us to get to this herd immunity so that they can be spared. That falls on all of our shoulders.

Haarsma:

It’s amazing how much the themes that we know so well as Christians come into this. Like it is about loving your neighbor. It’s about caring for your community. So I got my shot last week and I had a little bit of side effects for a day. It wasn’t too bad. And but knowing that that’s something that I can do that will help protect others. It’s a really powerful thing to be able to do that. So yes, love your neighbor get the shot.

Collins:

Yes. Absolutely. And you know, those side effects that you mentioned, I had that as well, after my second vaccine dose. I had chills, and I was a little feverish for 24 hours. But I kind of liked the fact that that said, my immune system is really working. It’s really noticed that it was asked to make some antibodies against that spike protein and it’s hard at work right now. And maybe that’s not a side effect, maybe that’s just an effect, which says this vaccine is doing what it’s supposed to. So yeah, people who have had some of those experiences, for maybe a day after the first or the second dose, celebrate! That’s—your body is actually designed by God Almighty to be ready to take on a challenge. And you just got a challenge and you responded.

Anderson: 

You mentioned side effects. Somebody wrote in and asked, is there anything else they can do, besides take the vaccine? Like does vitamin D, or exercise or diet, does that have an effect on COVID-19 at all, or not really?

Collins:

I wish there were simple things like that, that could help. And some work has been done to try to identify them. And so far it comes up empty, we really don’t see anything that’s simple like that that is going to change things very much. You know, there’s one more thing I want to bring up, which is another reason I think for people who are maybe a little skeptical or reluctant about the vaccine to think about it. And that is this more recent realization that people who get sick with COVID-19 don’t all get better in the way that you would think in a couple of weeks. Most of the time with a respiratory virus, you might be sick for a couple of weeks, but then you get back to where you were. It looks like as many as a third of the people who have COVID-19, including people who are only mildly ill, don’t seem to get better weeks later. They’re still fatigued, they’re short of breath. They have this brain fog, which is making it hard for them to function in daily activities. We don’t understand that. NIH has just started a very major effort to try to figure this out. But there’s one more reason ,even if you think your likelihood of an acute severe illness is low because you’re a young person, young people also get this long COVID outcome after a mild illness and are struggling to recover from it. So we have a solution. It’s called the vaccine. And it’s one more reason why people who might otherwise think of themselves as young and immortal, might want to take advantage of this as soon as they get the chance. And everybody’s getting the chance now, because we have enough doses. So please, people, consider this. Roll up your sleeve.

Haarsma:

We promise to talk about variants of the vaccine. We haven’t talked about that. Can you just briefly explain about those and how this impacts the Congress?

Collins:

Yeah, this is one more reason for us to be worried about getting this over with because the virus doesn’t turn out to be just taking this challenge lying down. The virus is evolving. If you wanted a little snapshot of evolution in action, look what this virus has done over the course of the last 15 months, where it is capable, by making mistakes in copying its genome, to have a change that makes that virus just a little bit more infectious. And those are now taking over in some places. There’s this terrible outbreak right now in Michigan, with a variant called B117, which is about 70% more contagious than the original virus and also more potentially lethal. That’s why I’m really worried about Michigan right now, because that’s where the outbreak is the worst. Right now the vaccines work against that variant, and another one from South Africa and another one from Brazil. But we don’t want to give this virus too many more opportunities to develop even more variants that ultimately might not respond to the vaccine. The only way you get more variants is for the virus to have people to copy itself in. So if we can cut back the infections, we can send those variants away, and we really need to do that.

Haarsma:

So many reasons for us to stay strong, to keep following the rules about masks and distancing, to get vaccinated. It protects ourselves or protects our neighbors. It protects from new variants arising. It helps our community. So and it’s not that it’s risk free. Everything in medicine, there’s some risk to it. But the risks of not vaccinating are so high. Well, with just a couple of minutes left, I wanted to end by asking you where each of you, where are you finding hope as we look ahead? Let’s start with you, Dr. Collins, and we’ll go to Dr. Anderson.

Collins:

Well, it has been a tough 15 months. And I must say there are times where I’ve felt quite distraught. And especially seeing the terrible toll this virus has taken of so many lives. I’ve spent a lot of time in scriptures trying to seek out words of comfort. And I find myself in the Psalms a lot as a result of that. And if you think that somehow our era is the only one that’s ever gone through suffering, well, you don’t have to read very many pages of the Bible to see that that’s not the case. But there’s so many words of comfort there, whether it’s Psalm 46, my favorite right now, “God is our refuge and strength and ever present help in trouble.” Or if I’m feeling fearful, because things aren’t going right, I go to Second Timothy, chapter one, verse seven: “we’re not given a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self control.” We have all these promises from God. And that’s where my hope comes from. And we are making progress. We are going to get through this. But if there was ever a time for all of us to decide to lock arms together and do this together, this is it, if we want to see this, basically go into the rearview mirror and leave us alone. We can get there. 

Anderson:

Amen.

Haarsma:

And Dr. Anderson, where are you finding hope?

Anderson:

Well, you know, I think Christians can help end the pandemic because we’re the ones that have Jesus in our boat. Remember how Jesus was going through the storm with the disciples and the storm was raging? Well, Mark tells us in his gospel that—he’s the only one out of the three, Matthew, Mark and Luke—he says in verse 36, at the very end, he says, “and there were other boats.” So that means that the storm was raging, but they had Jesus in their boat. And so they went and called on Jesus, if Christians would pray and call on Jesus to bring it into the pandemic, the other boats may not even know why the storm calmed. But we’ll know that he stepped up to the boat. And he said, to the wind and the waves, “be still.” And guess what? They obeyed Him. And so what happens is we can be like the disciples, and be in line with the crisis and drama and, “Jesus don’t you even care, oh my gosh, it’s a storm.” We can come in line with that, or we can be like the winds and waves and come in line with Jesus’s peace. And while he is in our boat, he’s not in everybody else’s boat. But here’s the good news. They’re all on the same sea. And as long as Christians are in the world, we’re the ones that go to Jesus, we’re the ones that say, “Lord, please end the pandemic.” And so I leave you with three P’s: pray, practice and promote. Pray to Jesus that he’ll end the pandemic. Practice healthy habits, like social distancing and wearing your mask out of love, and then promote the vaccines. Because we already know that that’s a gift from God. There’s your sermon from the preacher. Okay.

Collins:

Amen to that. Alright, what a great way to summarize everything we’ve been talking about. Thank you, David. 

Haarsma:

That is wonderful. Thank you for a great ending note, Dr. Anderson. Thank you both for being with us today for a wonderful conversation.

Collins:

God bless. Thanks Deb. Thanks, Dr. Anderson. 

Anderson:

Goodnight.

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. We are produced out of the remote workspaces and homes of BioLogos staff in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you will also find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening. 


Featured guests

David Anderson

David Anderson

Dr. David Anderson, founder, President and CEO of the BridgeLeader Network (BLN), is one of the world’s leading authorities on building bridges across the deep divides of race,  faith, culture and wealth. His work has brought hope and healing to communities,  families and people in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America,  including work in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, during recent civil  unrest around issues of race and police brutality. Known as the bridge-building voice in the Nation's Capital, Anderson hosts the daily  radio talk show "Real Talk with Dr. David Anderson" on WAVA (105.1 FM) – the most listened to Christian Talk Station on the East Coast and the 2nd most listened to Christian  Talk station in the nation. As the founder and senior pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, Dr. Anderson  reaches a dynamic, multicultural congregation of over 10,000 weekly attendees, viewed  in over 100 countries, with two locations, from more than 52 different nations, located in  Columbia, Maryland, and Owings Mills, Maryland.
BioLogos - Francis Collins

Francis Collins

Francis Collins is one of the world's leading scientists and geneticists, and the founder of BioLogos, where he is now a Senior Fellow. In his early scientific career, he discovered the gene for cystic fibrosis. Then he led an international collaboration that first mapped the entire human genome. For that work he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. In 2008 he was appointed to his current role as Director of the National Institutes of Health, where he has been overseeing the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2006, Collins wrote the best-selling book The Language of God. It tells the story of his journey from atheism to Christian belief, showing that science actually enhances faith. The tremendous response to the book prompted Collins to found BioLogos. He envisioned it as a forum to discuss issues at the intersection of faith and science and to celebrate the harmony found there. His reputation quickly attracted a large network of faith leaders, including Tim Keller, Philip Yancey, and NT Wright. These and others joined the BioLogos conversation and affirmed the value of engaging science as believers. BioLogos is now an organization that reaches millions around the world. In celebration of his world-class scientific accomplishments and deep Christian faith, Collins was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2020. It honors individuals who are "harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.” He joined a prestigious group of previous winners, including Mother Teresa, Francis Ayala, Charles Townes, Desmond Tutu, and Billy Graham.