Against Being The Vaccine Guy

This post first appeared on Kineti and is authored by Judah Gabriel Himango, one of Tabernacle of David’s teachers.

An man obsessed with...something

God has a higher calling for the Anti-Vaxx Guy, the Alternative Medicine Guy, the Conspiracy Guy, The Flat Earth Guy, the Angry At The World Guy, The Election Was Stolen Guy, The Biden is Literally Hitler Guy.

And God has a higher calling for me, The Vaccine Guy.

I want to be the guy known for loving and serving God and His people. Vaccines are great and all, but I’ve been unbalanced in this over the last few months.

I’m in danger of becoming The Vaccine Guy.

In this post, I’m going to show you how I got here, how it’s become an imbalanced issue in my life, and what I aim to do to fix that.

What I’ve been wasting my time on during the pandemic

A year ago as we entered this global pandemic, I knew there would major disputes among believers about COVID and vaccines, especially in the Hebrew Roots submovement.

Last July, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, I saw my Facebook friends starting to say Really Dumb Things™. One friend said, “The COVID vaccine is POISON!! DO NOT GET THIS SHOT!”

It was dumb because at the time, there was no COVID vaccine; they didn’t show up until 6 months later in December.

I asked my friend, “What COVID vaccine? There is no vaccine available for COVID right now. And there are multiple in development. Which one are you referring to?”

“All of them!” she replied.

I posted an ingredients list and asked which ingredient was poison.

“All of it! All of it is poison!”

I had posted the ingredients of an apple.

I knew, right then, that we were in for a rough ride.

People had opinions – strong opinions! – on things that didn’t even exist yet. They had already made up their minds in irrational exuberance. Their confidence made up for their lack of expertise.

Sidebar: In the age of the internet, it’s easy to be confident and wrong. Watch a YouTube video from Ovadiah Ben Clem about how the COVID vaxx will transmorgrify your DNA, and suddenly you have strong opinions about something that you have no expertise in. Your thinking isn’t shaped by expertise or data. It’s shaped by opinions from non-experts.

I knew there would be a tsunami of misinformation soon thrashing the shores of our social media pages and our oneg tables, especially among the Messianic movement and Hebrew Roots submovement, which tend to be anti-vaxx and steeped in scientific skepticism.

And I figured this time around would be worse than past anti-vaxx fears, because we were in the midst of a global, once-in-a-century worldwide plague. It would really divide people.

Anti-vaxx activists making sensational claims about the Polio vaccine, circa 1954
Historic anti-vaxx propaganda: An anti-vaxx flyer from 1954 demonizes the Polio vaccine as an experimental, murderous drug, a work of the Devil, a tool of the anti-Christ, with horrific side-effects. 25 years later, in 1979, the vaccine had successfully eradicated Polio from the US.

By December, against all odds and thanks to President Trump’s government fast-track program, the first COVID vaccines became publicly available in record time.

But how would we know if they worked?

This is where a lot of people turn to Ovadiah Ben Clem on YouTube, Outraged Political Guy on Big News Network, All-Natural-Bro dot com, and other non-expert sources.

Forget opinions, what does the data say?

But I focused on the data.

Specifically, if the COVID vaccine works, we should see a decrease in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. And we should see this in multiple nations, wherever the vaccine is rolled out.

If the vaccine doesn’t achieve those results, well, we need to acknowledge that and find a different treatment.

So I did an experiment: I said, “If the vaccines work, we should see X and Y results 30 days from now.” Here’s what I predicted back in January, right as the vaccines were rolling out:

Me making predictions about vaccine efficacy back in January

In the comments, I added my prediction:

My prediction that the vaccine will cause a drop 15-20% drop in COVID infections

I figured, if the COVID vaccine works, we should see a significant drop in COVID infections and deaths within 30 days. I predicted a 15% to 20% drop.

A month later, my prediction was not only accurate, it wasn’t optimistic enough. COVID infections and deaths declined even more than I predicted:

Results of my prediction

The results were better than I predicted: Israel saw a 33% decrease in COVID infections, and a 40% decrease in COVID deaths.

I did this same experiment each month for the next 4 months: predicting what Israel’s COVID infection rate would be a month later given their current vaccination rate. All predictions came true, and all of them were not optimistic enough; the vaccine was more effective at stopping COVID than we had even hoped.

By April, Israel reported zero COVID deaths for the first time since the pandemic began. Shortly after, Israel lifted its mask restrictions, rolled back its vaccine passport, and removed most of its COVID restrictions.

For all intents and purposes in Israel, things are returning to normal; the pandemic is over.

Graph showing the correlation between COVID vaccination rate and decreasing number of new COVID infections

Correlation isn’t causation, though, so maybe all this data is a fluke, explained in other ways. Maybe Israel was fudging the numbers? Or maybe COVID naturally declined? Maybe COVID ran through the population and natural immunity kicked in?

But wherever a COVID vaccine was widely deployed, new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths dropped sharply and significantly. While Israel was a great test case, as they were the first and fastest nation to rollout a COVID vaccine to a majority of its citizens, it was not the only example.

This same pattern – vaccine introduced, infections disappear – was repeated in other nations with high vaccination rates, including the UK and US. As more people received the vaccine, cases and deaths declined.

Meanwhile, nations like India and Brazil suffered new waves of terrible COVID outbreaks, killing thousands per day.

Why?

Their vaccination rates were among the lowest in the world:

Graph showing COVID vaccination rates across nations

If this weren’t enough, more data rolled in from large studies showing the COVID vaccine to be highly effective at preventing COVID infections and deaths. Israel did numerous studies, but my favorite is this one by Maccabi Healthcare. They studied 523,000 vaccinated Israelis and and 628,000 unvaccinated Israelis. Same demographics, same ages, same ethnic backgrounds. Apples-to-apples comparison.

The result?

In the vaccinated group, 544 got sick with COVID.

In the unvaccinated group, 18,425 got sick with COVID.

These results were so stunning it prompted the head of Maccabi’s health division to say,

“The data unequivocally prove that the vaccine is very effective and we have no doubt that it has saved the lives of many Israelis.”

Dr. Miri Mizrahi Reuveni

In light of all this evidence, I’ve adopted the same view: the data shows beyond a doubt Pfizer’s COVID vaccine is highly effective at stopping COVID infections and deaths.

Social Media Warrior

I raised these data points on social media, showing that the vaccine appears to be very effective and will likely end the pandemic.

Anti-vaxx folks would flock in and try to explain away that data.

And soon, my Facebook page became a battleground.

I’d go back and forth with these folks; I have written over 1000 replies in the last 6 months to their comments, posts, and DMs.

In these replies, I’ve refuted vaccine conspiracy theories about Bill Gates, 5G chips, overpopulation and horrific vaccine side-effects. I’ve rebutted accusations that the vaccine makes you sterile, turns you gay, changes your DNA, or is gene therapy. I’ve responded to people who told me I will die because I chose to vaccinate myself. I’ve responded to people who told me, “You are no longer following Hashem. You have turned to Molech.” I’ve responded to people saying that I’m no longer trusting God by getting immunized. I’ve responded to people who told me I should find a burial plot so I don’t burden my wife and kids with my inevitable demise from the vaccine. I’ve responded to people saying I will get deathly sick in the next 6 months. I’ve responded to people who told me that I will be controlled by 5G radio waves. I’ve responded to people who told me that I will make others sick by shedding my vaccine-induced spike proteins.

Some folks from my old congregation, too, would engage me and push their anti-vaxx views – some via snail mail, others by Facebook, others in person – usually coupled with conspiracy theories about Bill Gates, microchips, and other technology they didn’t understand.

My family also got sucked into anti-vaxx stuff. I had a few disputes with my mom, sometimes public, over vaccines and related news about vaccine side-effects. I didn’t like doing that. At the same time, I felt compelled to speak up for my convictions.

People I admired and respected, Messianic musicians and congregational leaders and leaders in the Messianic Jewish movement, posted anti-vaxx conspiracy theories that often tied in our faith:

  • “The vaccine is the Mark of the Beast!”
  • “The vaccine is a new Holocaust!”
  • “Bill Gates is trying to depopulate the world through vaccines!”

I’ve engaged those folks, too, trying to offer a different perspective with grace, sometimes calling attention to their sensationalism and how it hurts our witness about God and Messiah.

One Messianic Jewish ministry, a husband and wife that tour the United States, had come on my Facebook page and told me, “The COVID vaccine is much like Nazi Dr. Mengele’s experiments on Holocaust prisoners.”

I responded by saying, “This is what I mean when I say that Hebrew Roots has a misinformation problem. Sensationalism like this hurts our credibility as Yeshua’s disciples.”

This woman then responded by posting on her social media a big “OH MY GOD I’M BEING PERSECUTED BY JUDAH GABRIEL HIMANGO” thread:

Person claims to be persecuted by me

This woman claimed I was shaming her.

I shame bad ideas, not people. It’s why I didn’t use her name; I even blurred out her name when highlighting the sensational claim.

Even so, after seeing this woman take offense to my calling out her idea as sensational, I offered to delete my post for peace in Yeshua’s name.

She never responded to that offer.

I deleted my post anyways.

But there it was, and still stands, a post that demonized me, with 124 comments and 17 shares.

Messianic ministries and individuals, including Messianic Jewish ones accepted in the mainstream Messianic movement, were there in the comments, thinking I’m just a horrible person who shames people.

Her post certainly brought a lot of sympathy for her “persecution.” Many commenters misread her post and assumed she was being attacked because she was Jewish; anti-Semitism. To this day, I still don’t understand why she opened her post with her Jewish heritage; my post didn’t mention her, her name, or her background. I have Jewish heritage too – my post called out ideas, not heritage.

Seeing a hundred people piling on you, saying how terrible you are for attacking and shaming a person is a delightful experience. 😅 Internet mobs are vicious, especially when motivated with political or religious zeal. And witnessing hundreds of people agree with the sensational idea, “The vaxx is really a new Holocaust!” was a jarring moment.

I began to think, “Is everybody crazy? Or am I crazy? Do I even belong in this movement?”

I responded to her post in grace. I told her and the hundreds of commenters,

“If you really believe the COVID vaccine is a new Holocaust and an experiment like the kind Dr. Mengele ran, let’s revisit this thread in one year. If millions of Israelis have died, I will acknowledge I was in grave error and apologize. But if millions of Israelis have not died from the vaccine, I ask you do the same.”

(How many of those hundreds of commenters will apologize when it turns out the millions of Israelis haven’t died from the COVID vaccine, but rather, millions of lives have been saved? How many will have the humility to acknowledge their error?)

Becoming known for a minor Issue

But all this came at a cost, in my estimation.

Last month I attended a wedding for a young man from my old congregation. At the wedding, I was seated at a table with some folks from my old congregation – all of them anti-vaxx. After polite niceties and small talk, much of the discussion that night was about vaccines. I didn’t want it to be. Weddings aren’t the place for that.

One of the folks at the table asked why I am so obsessed with vaccines. In my mind, I’m not obsessed; just trying to stand up for my convictions. But then again, that’s what all crazy people say. 😉

The week of the wedding I also visited with my parents and the discussion turned to vaccines. “I heard someone say the vaccine makes you magnetic; a magnet will stick to your arm where you got the shot.”

And then, last month at Proclaim Hebraic Music Fest, I met some amazing people…who were stunned to discover that I was pro-vaccine.

In all these cases, I didn’t even want to discuss vaccines. But the discussion came anyways, probably because I’ve made it too high a priority in my life, given it too much free rental space in my head.

About a month before all this, I had felt the pressing of the Lord to back off from my course of action. Fighting with believers over that in public resulted in a unhealthy imbalance in my own life, regardless of whether I was right.

I had long advised friends and congregants to back off from unhealthy obsessions – conspiracy theories, pet doctrines, flat earth – and instead be known for doing good works for the Lord.

Now I felt the Lord telling me the same.

And soon, friends started cautioning me against my current course of action. A pro-vaccine family member asked me privately, “Why are you doing this? What’s the point? Is anyone really going to change their mind?”

My parents had called me to tell me that I was being too harsh and rigid, unwilling to just have a discussion about anti-vaxx concerns.

Another friend told me, “I admire what you’re doing trying to change hearts and minds. But you’re putting yourself into the fire. Maybe taking a break would be good for your mental health?”

It’s OK to go against the grain and stand up for your beliefs. More than OK. It takes courage to do that when everyone else is going in the opposite direction.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Winston Churchill

But I recognize that God doesn’t want me to be The Vaccine Guy. It’s good to be pro-vaccine, because lives are saved. But I have prioritized it too highly. There are more important things, and a higher divine calling, than advocating for vaccines.

This is true for anti-vaxx folks, too. God has a higher calling for the Anti-Vaxx Guy, the Alternative Medicine guy, the Conspiracy Guy, The Flat Earth Guy, the Angry At The World Guy, The Election Was Stolen Guy.

Does this mean we can’t talk about our convictions? That I must hold my tongue while the anti-vaxxers plaster their hot garbage all over the walls of the internet?

No.

But it does mean that if I become known for those things, something’s out of balance. God’s people should be known for caring for the sick, for the poor, visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry. To serve God’s people in tangible ways. Caring for my family. Serving my local community.

I want to be that Guy because that’s how God wants us to live, as described in the Bible.

Changes

I haven’t quite figured out the right balance here. The data has convinced me more than ever that vaccines are a great blessing from God and are saving millions of lives right now. Since lives are at stake, it’s an important issue.

But I can’t become known for my stance on vaccines. That’s too small a thing for a disciple of Yeshua. It’s an imbalance. It can’t be the primary cause in my life, even in the midst of this pandemic.

How can I bring some balance to my pro-vaccine views as a disciple of Yeshua?

For starters, I’ve spent the last month not posting about vaccines on my Facebook page. Really, an exercise in self-control. Am I able to do that? Or has it gotten so bad I’m unable to keep my mouth shut for a moment?

(Anti-vaxx folks have still been posting on my wall and sending me DMs, and I have sometimes responded to those, for better or worse. 🤷‍♀️)

I’m also avoiding jumping in on vaccine threads started by other folks. There have been numerous times where I started typing a reply, only to delete it all and let it be.

There will be times when I post about vaccines. Silencing dissent isn’t the answer. But deprioritizing the vaccine issue in my life is a good start. I can have those convictions without being known as The Vaccine Guy. I can avoid majoring on a minor issue.

I aim in the future to keep these posts balanced with regards to my life’s calling as a disciple of Yeshua, that I don’t become known for such a small thing as my stance on vaccines. If I want to be used by God for bigger things, I can’t make my life about a single issue.

Maybe that’s true for you, too, fine Kineti reader.