THERE is no legitimate religious reason for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, says a Steinbach councillor who spoke about anti-vaccine sentiment in the southeast Manitoba city at a recent civic meeting.

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THERE is no legitimate religious reason for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, says a Steinbach councillor who spoke about anti-vaccine sentiment in the southeast Manitoba city at a recent civic meeting.

"There is nothing in the Christian faith tradition that prohibits vaccination," Michael Zwaagstra said. "The simple reality is that any Christian who objects to the COVID-19 vaccines is doing so out of personal preference and not because of anything taught in the Bible."

GRANT BURR / THE CARILLON</p><p>Michael Zwaagstra.</p>

GRANT BURR / THE CARILLON

Michael Zwaagstra.

Zwaagstra, who has been a city councillor since 2006, made the remarks Tuesday.

He said he respects people who decide not to be vaccinated for personal reasons but "We must remember that accepting or refusing a vaccine is a personal choice and not a test of religious faith."

Zwaagstra took issue with the claim being anti-abortion is a reason to not be vaccinated.

Citing research found on the provincial government website, and other "reputable" medical websites, he said fetal tissue was not used to develop the COVID-19 vaccines.

Instead, he said, they were tested on fetal cell lines grown in a laboratory and aborted fetal cells that made up those lines were collected decades ago.

"If you boycott the COVID-19 vaccines, you will also need to avoid drugs such as Tylenol, Advil, Aspirin, Claritin, Tums, Benadryl, Robitussin and Pepto Bismol," he said, noting those drugs were tested on the same fetal cell line as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Even Ivermectin, which is touted by anti-vaxxers as a cure for COVID-19, was tested the same way, he said.

In an interview with the Free Press, Zwaagstra, 45, who is vaccinated and in the process of becoming a member of the Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church, said he made the remarks because he has heard people argue against the vaccine based on religious reasons.

"People tell me it goes against the Christian faith," Zwaagstra said, adding he decided to speak out when he learned Springs Church in Winnipeg planned to offer a "religious exemption" to its members.

"But there is nothing in the Bible or Christianity at all that says that."

If anything, said Zwaagstra, who teaches at Green Valley School in Grunthal and is an adjunct faculty member at Steinbach Bible College, "There is a stronger biblical case for getting vaccinated such as obeying the government and loving your neighbours."

Response to his stance has been positive, he said, both from those who are vaccinated and those who oppose vaccinations.

"They agree that we shouldn’t turn getting vaccinated into a religious test," he said.

He also received support for his view it’s a mistake to insert the abortion debate into the vaccination issue.

"I’m pro life, and if I thought making the vaccines would lead to more abortions, then I would have a different view," he said.

He praised the Manitoba government for taking a "balanced" approach to mandates rather than taking a hard-line stance.

Zwaagstra knows people who have battled COVID-19, some of whom have died.

"This is real," he said, adding the surging number of cases and deaths in the Southern Health region, which includes Steinbach, means fewer people are claiming the pandemic is made up.

"The ICUs are full," he said. "It’s a real problem."

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca

John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.