DENVER — When it comes to vaccinating Americans against the coronavirus, it may come down to making believers out of skeptics.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found many vaccine skeptics can be found among white Evangelicals. The study, categorizing COVID-19 vaccine acceptance by religious affiliation, found only 54% of white Evangelicals have received or intend to receive a vaccine. That number compares with 64% of Black Protestants, 78% of white Catholics and 90% of Atheists.
"We're pretty divided," said Albert Martin, a Catholic who said he and many of his family are unsure whether to get the vaccine on grounds of faith. "I know there's some friends who've taken the vaccine and they're Catholic. And there's other friends who, like, they're just leaving everything to God."
Though numerous Christian leaders have spoken out in favor of the vaccine, like Pope Francis and Franklin Graham, many of the faithful remain skeptical. Recently Graham posted on Facebook about his experience receiving the Moderna vaccine. There are more than 62,000 comments on his post, many praising his decision, while others called him a heretic, among other names.
The reason so many leaders are speaking out in support is due to a concern among doctors that many of the vaccine skeptics will need to receive it to achieve herd immunity. Doctors predict more than 80% of Americans will need to receive the vaccine to reach that point, a number that would include many of the religious outlined in the PEW study.
"That's a big number to obtain, and so we need everybody on board to to get to that level," said Dr. Thomas Campbell, chief clinical officer at UCHealth. "Ideally, we need everybody to get vaccinated."
Campbell has confronted many of the conspiracy theories facing the vaccine. He says the lies about them resemble little about the true nature of the vaccines developed to battle COVID-19.
"The only conspiracy I can think of is that a bunch of smart people got together and decided a way to take care of COVID," Campbell said. "Everything has been done in the public domain to an extremely large extent."
The conspiracies range from assertions that the vaccines are made from fetal tissue taken from abortions, to micro-bot tracking chips, to demonic symbols signaling the end of times.
"We have to take that distrust seriously and try to call Christians to trust and give them good reasons to trust why the vaccine is safe, effective and spiritually acceptable for them to take," said Curtis Chang, a professor aat Duke Divinity School. "I think we take the perspective of really meeting people where they're at trying to take their questions and concerns seriously."
Chang, a former Evangelical pastor, started a website called ChristiansAndTheVaccine.com where he addresses many of the concerns from the faithful about the vaccines and their medical and moral viability. He argues the vaccines are not only safe to receive, but they are spiritually in line with the faith he and millions of Americans practice.
"We really believe in the old biblical principle 'the truth will set you free.' So, you have to meet misinformation with information, mistruth with truth," Chang said. "Ultimately, Evangelicals want to love God, and they want to love their neighbor. They just need to be shown how the vaccine is consistent with those values."