Vaccines & Values

by Tara Hernandez

You can’t exactly pinpoint to the Bible and find, “Thou Shalt Get Vaccinated,” but when looking for answers about the COVID-19 vaccine, dealing with an international healthcare crisis, and serving our neighbor – there are several examples in Christian faith and in Trinity Health’s Mission, vision, and values that one can follow.

Our country has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 virus, and not just in health care settings. In the United States we have seen over 600,000 deaths, and a surge in variants. A COVID-related death occurs every seven minutes in the U.S., despite having treatments available.

In addition, we have seen division in our population related to COVID-19. Division in getting vaccinated, challenges among families and friends when making health care choices, and debates within our own health ministry regarding a recent decision to mandate colleagues to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Our core value of Safety calls on us to do everything we can to protect ourselves, our colleagues, our patients, and our communities. The Bible also calls on us to serve our neighbors and love them as we love ourselves.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22: 37-40

“One of the themes throughout the pandemic is that we have to look outside ourselves. It’s not about me,” said Joanna Bailey, manager of Spiritual Care at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids. “I really believe at the heart of spirituality is our neighbor and that being anyone who is not ourselves. We think about the Good Samaritan story or Cain and Abel asking, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ We are called to care for one another and one way we do that is to protect those in unsafe situations. The best way to do it in this current environment is to be vaccinated. Whether protecting patients or children that cannot be vaccinated. That’s something greater than ourselves.”

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), more than 96-percent of all physicians nationwide have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 75-percent of our Trinity Health colleagues have received it.

For colleagues on the fence about getting the vaccine or for those who feel torn between health and decision-making:

“I would encourage them to go back to their calling. Why did they want to be a part of health care? What is their motivation and how does this requirement take away from that motivation?” said Bailey. “If it doesn’t, why are we upset about it? We are here for the patients so I would encourage one to really go back to why they went into health care. And to it make clear: You don’t have to agree with the requirement, you simply abide by it. No one is asking you to vote or agree. If it doesn’t affect your day-to-day bedside care, then I would ask folks to really reflect on what this is really about.”

Several times throughout the Bible, we are told what to do. Like Moses, or Jonah for example.

It may take weeks, months, or even years to fully understand the decisions being made, but as the Bible reminds us – to truly be happy, you must put yourself last. Bailey and the Spiritual Care team have seen first-hand throughout the pandemic those that do not, could carry grief, heartache, and regret.  

“I had a woman in her 80s that I spoke with several times in her stay with us at Saint Mary’s, and she knew she was dying after her daughter’s family exposed her to COVID,” Bailey said. “Her daughter told her not to get vaccinated and that guilt her daughter will live with is more than I could ever want. The mother died knowing her daughter would feel that brokenness. That’s a heavy burden to carry into death and heavy burden for the daughter who continues to live.”

Jesus said, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last… Whoever wishes to be first among you, shall be your slave. Be like the Son of Man who did not come to be served, but to serve; and to give his soul a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:16,27-28).

Faith plays an important role in what we do, and it surrounds our workplace environment from the reflections we give before meetings to the crosses that hang in our patient rooms. Serving others is what we do – nurses and phlebotomists, nutrition service workers and lab techs, physicians and social workers. We serve safely so that we can continue to push through whatever life throws our way – for the greater good of all people.