Michael Zimmerman, the Founder and Executive Director of the The Clergy Letter Project, has written an article titled, “Why I’ll not be Taking a Covid-19 Vaccine — and I’m a Scientist.” The Clergy Letter Project is an organization that was founded to show that numerous clergy from a variety of denominations have embraced evolutionary theory and find it harmonious with their religious faith. The Clergy Letter Project is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.
It is a favorite sister site to BioLogos, so BioLogos founder, Dr. Francis Collins, who is a physician and geneticist known for spearheading the Human Genome Project and for his landmark discoveries of disease genes, and is now the director of the National Institutes of Health, was quite dismayed and wrote a rejoinder to Zimmerman’s article on the BioLogos site entitled “Francis Collins Responds to COVID Vaccine Skeptic”.
Zimmerman’s problem with the developing vaccine is that he is afraid politics will triumph over science in the vaccine’s release. He is concerned because of the Trump administration’s meddling with the CDC and FDA, that a vaccine will be rushed out that either isn’t safe or isn’t effective just to help Trump’s re-election campaign. Zimmerman says:
I can only conclude that the leadership of both agencies have been thoroughly corrupted and are acting for political rather than scientific reasons.
What else can anyone believe when the CDC changed its guidelines for opening schools upon the direction of the president?
What else can anyone believe when the FDA commissioner granted emergency authorization for the use of convalescent plasma despite remarkably limited data supporting such a decision and then lied about what the data actually indicate after pressure from the president?
What else can anyone believe when the CDC, after hearing the president demand that Covid-19 testing be slowed down, rewrote its guidance for testing saying that asymptomatic individuals, even those in close contact with people who have tested positive, should not be tested?
What else can anyone believe when these actions, as well as so many other recent actions, are attacked by virtually all in the scientific community as being scientifically and medically unsound?
Collins responded that the “…vaccine approval process will have to be transparent for all to see — that has already been guaranteed.” He urges Zimmerman to withhold judgement until the data is out. Collins says:
Why would you prejudge the outcome now? Are you allowing your own scientific judgment to be overcome by the current political tumult, and granting a victory to the forces of irrationality?
Please reconsider. Righteous indignation is one of my favorite emotions too, but sometimes it needs to be scrutinized. Many people depend on you and the Clergy Letter Project to bring a faithful blend of scientific reason and God’s love to a hurting world. Does this stance fit with that? Prayerfully consider what God would expect of you at a time like this. Lives are at stake.
Zimmerman wrote back and thanked Collins for his gracious but blunt letter but said:
Where we disagree, however, is in the critical statement that you made in your next paragraph. You wrote that “the vaccine approval process will have to be transparent for all to see — that has already been guaranteed.” If only that were to come to pass. I don’t mistrust you, those who report to you and all of the bench scientists who are working so hard. I do mistrust the current administration and those in power at the FDA and the CDC who have demonstrated that they are unwilling to pay attention to the data, to fully share data informing their decisions, and to tell the truth. I mistrust the president and those who report directly to him to do what’s in the best interest of the American people – indeed, the people of the world.
Collins then replied:
Thanks for your rapid response. I hear you. But be careful that you don’t end up hoping and praying for the vaccine to arrive after January 20 — when an earlier scientifically rigorous result would have potentially saved many lives. I am totally comfortable with you expressing your deep concern, but I would ask you (and by extension your readers) to keep minds open until you see the actual data on safety and efficacy. I believe it will ultimately be impossible to keep that out of public view.
It is an interesting and respectful exchange between two credentialed scientists who are both Christians on a very important, even vital, topic. I have high degree of respect for Francis Collins and am somewhat encouraged that he believes the vaccine approval process is sufficiently transparent to assure the public will be well served. He is in a position to know, and I don’t doubt that if he discerned a problem he wouldn’t hesitate to go public about it. Still…
I have to give weight to Zimmerman’s concerns. There seems to be little doubt that the CDC caved to presidential pressure to change its guidelines to school reopening. Even more problematic was when the CDC rewrote its guidance for testing saying that asymptomatic individuals, even those in close contact with people who have tested positive, should not be tested.
Bottom line: although I trust Francis Collins, I do not trust Donald Trump to act in the best interests of the American public. If a vaccine comes out before the election I will not be first in line to try it. If a vaccine comes out after the election and Trump is re-elected, I still will not be first in line to try it.
What do you think?