EPISCOPAL dioceses across the United States are beginning to make it mandatory for clergy to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to protect their congregations.
The Bishop of Maine, the Rt Revd Thomas J. Brown, has directed all his clergy and diocesan staff to be vaccinated by the end of September, unless they have been told by a doctor not to do so. They could be asked to step down if they refused.
He told his 240 clergy in a letter on Monday that, as spiritual leaders, they had “a moral obligation both to protect others and to set a Christ-like example to the larger world”. The Church’s role in public discourse was “to remind us of what it means to do as Jesus teaches: to love our neighbours as much as ourselves. In this case, it means prioritising the common good and our community’s health.”
On Thursday, the diocese of Long Island followed suit. The Episcopal News Service reported that all clergy and diocesan staff must show proof of vaccination by 15 September. The diocese covers the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.
The Bishop, the Rt Revd Lawrence Provenzano, wrote: “We have an obligation as the Church to do everything in our power to ensure the safety and well-being of the people we are called to serve. Getting vaccinated is a way to express our love of God and our love of neighbor in the midst of this crisis.”
St John’s Episcopal Hospital in Queens would vaccinate anyone who still needed it, the Bishop said.
The United States has reported more than 37.9 million cases since the pandemic began. Deaths have now surpassed 629,000. New cases have risen to above 140,000 per day, and experts warn that areas with many unvaccinated people, as well as emerging variants, could lead to a further surge in cases.
In the week up to 22 August, the total number of new cases listed was 1,031,940, a 12.7-per-cent increase from the previous week. There were 7108 deaths attributed to Covid-19, a 43-per-cent rise from the previous week; hospitalisations have risen to more than 100,000, the highest since January.
In Maine itself, as of Thursday 26 August, 838,199 people — 62.3 per cent of the state’s 1.3 million population — had been fully vaccinated, higher than the national average. Hospitals are described as “chock full” of Covid patients, and are pleading for the public to get vaccinated, amid reports that 300,000 eligible citizens had not come forward for the jab.
Bishop Brown explained that he was following the lead of other instutions: “Public health agencies, governments, corporations, schools, and not-for-profits are also announcing mandatory vaccinations.
“We are not all doing this because we are heavy handed, but because vaccinations are the best tool we have to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, the Most Revd Michael Curry, has told Americans: “Vaccines can help us save lives and make life liveable. . . We can get ours for ourselves, but if not for ourselves, for our children who still don’t have the vaccine yet.”
Before the pandemic struck, the Church’s executive council passed a resolution in 2019, declaring the “proper and responsible use of vaccines” to be “a duty not only to our own selves and families but to our communities. Choosing to not vaccinate, when it is medically safe, threatens the lives of others.”
In the resolution, the executive council also condemned the “continued and intentional spreading of fraudulent research that suggested vaccines might cause harm. The spread of this misinformation has resulted in significant harm to children and families.”
Pope Francis has urged all Roman Catholics to have the vaccine, declaring being vaccinated with vaccines authorised by competent authorities to be “an act of love” for others.
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s Covid-19 Advisory Team launched a campaign this week to encourage Anglicans to be vaccinated. It is appealing to bishops in the Province to declare a “Covid Vaccination Week” from Sunday; for a 12-minute video on the importance of vaccinations to be shown at services; and for diocesan vaccine co-ordinators to be appointed.