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Francis Collins
 on September 03, 2020

Francis Collins Responds to COVID Vaccine Skeptic

Francis Collins — BioLogos Founder and current Director of the National Institutes of Health — responds to a recent essay from a scientist skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Before You Read

Dear reader,

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Intro by BioLogos Editorial Team

The Clergy Letter Project is an organization that was founded to show that numerous clergy from a variety of denominations have embraced evolutionary theory and find it harmonious with their religious faith. It is perhaps surprising, then, that Michael Zimmerman, the Founder and Executive Director of the The Clergy Letter Project, has written an article titled, Why I’ll not be Taking a Covid-19 Vaccine — and I’m a Scientist.

The gist of his argument is that he’s concerned that the CDC and the FDA — federal agencies whose mission is to keep us healthy — have been co-opted by politics. This is not paranoia at the level of Plandemic conspiracies. But in our view, it also does not give science the chance to prove itself.

Zimmerman had the class and integrity to alert Francis Collins — BioLogos Founder and current Director of the National Institutes of Health — to the article. Francis replied to Zimmerman and both men gave us permission to publish his letter. Here it is unedited:

Dear Michael,

I am deeply troubled to read your essay. For someone with your training in science to adopt this view gives me true heartache about the future of our nation. As NIH Director deeply engaged in the vaccine development program, I have a front row seat to the science that is being pursued — in fact, it is a consuming passion that currently leads to 100-hour weeks. And it’s actually going really well.  I am cautiously optimistic that by the end of 2020 we will have at least one vaccine that is safe and effective — by rigorous standards that I think you would strongly endorse. But if you, and millions of others, have already closed your mind to the possibility that this might succeed, we will be dooming tens of thousands more to die in 2021 and beyond.

I am troubled that your confidence has been shaken in FDA and CDC. But the vaccine approval process will have to be transparent for all to see — that has already been guaranteed. Shouldn’t you reserve judgment until you see the data? Isn’t that what you as a scientist are called to? Why would you prejudge the outcome now? Are you allowing your own scientific judgment to be overcome by the current political tumult, and granting a victory to the forces of irrationality?

Please reconsider. Righteous indignation is one of my favorite emotions too, but sometimes it needs to be scrutinized. Many people depend on you and the Clergy Letter Project to bring a faithful blend of scientific reason and God’s love to a hurting world. Does this stance fit with that? Prayerfully consider what God would expect of you at a time like this. Lives are at stake.

Forgive me for speaking so bluntly, but this really matters.

With respect and admiration for all the good things you and the Clergy Letter Project have done,

Francis

Zimmerman wrote back a gracious letter to Collins (which he posted publicly). He praises Collins and the scientists who are doing the difficult bench work that will lead to a vaccine. He admits that Collins’ letter has caused him to rethink his position. But ultimately he deeply mistrusts the current administration and fears its interference with the scientific process. He will only consider getting the vaccine if a new administration is inaugurated on January 20, 2021.

While politics is inescapable, BioLogos is committed to being non-partisan. We won’t be telling people which candidates they should vote for or otherwise advocating for a political party. Remember that Francis Collins was appointed to his position as Director of the NIH by President Obama, and in a rare show of bipartisan support, President Trump was encouraged by members of both parties to keep him in that position — the only Obama appointee still serving in the Trump administration. Francis Collins transcends politics.

Here is his rejoinder to Zimmerman:

Dear Michael,

Thanks for your rapid response. I hear you. But be careful that you don’t end up hoping and praying for the vaccine to arrive after January 20 — when an earlier scientifically rigorous result would have potentially saved many lives. I am totally comfortable with you expressing your deep concern, but I would ask you (and by extension your readers) to keep minds open until you see the actual data on safety and efficacy. I believe it will ultimately be impossible to keep that out of public view.

Blessings, Francis

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About the author

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.