Missionary vaccine policies are influenced by access and travel

While COVID-19 vaccination refusal rates are high among white evangelical Christians (though they may be higher than in other faith groups), the International Mission Board, which sends thousands of missionaries around the world, isn't hesitant about giving the shot.

Missionary vaccine policies are influenced by access and travel

The Southern Baptist Convention's global agency, the largest evangelical Protestant denomination, has announced that it will require vaccinations for missionaries who are going into the field during the pandemic.

According to some leaders in the field the IMB could be the first U.S. missionary organization to have such a mandate. Other faith groups approach this issue in different ways, including by limiting where people can serve, and considering uneven global access to vaccines.

Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist and Wheaton College dean of Mission, Ministry and Leadership, said that "this is a very common-sense determination." "Mission-sending organizations from the United States have the opportunity to get vaccinated and they're going places in the world that don’t have it."

Both current and future missionaries, as well as certain staff, are covered by the IMB policy. It cited health concerns as well as the fact that more countries are implementing their own vaccination requirements. Some field personnel reported having to present proof of vaccination to board planes, subways, or enter restaurants or malls.

Leaders of IMB acknowledged in a statement that the policy could prove to be problematic for people who are considering missionary work or are currently serving with the organisation.

The Rev. The Rev. Allen Nelson IV is a pastor leading a Southern Baptist congregation located in Arkansas. He said that he was not against vaccinations, but that he opposes mandates for missionaries.

Nelson stated that "this is something that should be left up to a individual's conscience, research, and discussions with a physician, as well their particular ministry context," The Associated Press.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon church) is one religious group that has not issued vaccine mandates. It is currently giving assignments to unvaccinated missionaries in their home countries.

The United Methodist Church encourages all missionaries to be vaccinated, but it does not require them to do so. Judy Chung, the executive director of missionary services at the denomination's Global Ministries, said that this is partly due to inconsistent availability around the globe.

Chung stated, "We have discussed ways to promote vaccinations without making it a mandatory requirement," "because some may still not have that access."

The current number of full-time missionaries in the denomination is approximately 240. There are currently 40 deployed members with a vaccination rate of around 80%.

Chung stated, "We want to ensure that our missionary populations are safe so they can concentrate on the mission work that's been assigned to them." "We want to ensure that we don't cause harm while we do our mission."

U.S.-based mission group leaders need to know if they will be covered by the Biden administration’s newly announced rule. Companies with over 100 employees must have workers vaccinated against the coronavirus and undergo weekly testing.

Ted Esler, president of Missio Nexus (an association that encompasses hundreds of missionary agencies across the U.S., Canada and Canada), said that if they do, about 30% of these agencies could be affected. Although he believes they will comply with the federal mandate, he said that the issue is not currently causing much debate.

He noted that the vaccine entry requirements of many countries for visitors may make it impossible to enforce internal organizational rules.

Esler stated, "Whether you have policies or not, if you're going cross-culturally to another country, you will be confronted with the government regulation."

The Public Religion Research Institute conducted a June survey and found that COVID-19 vaccine refusal rates were stable. Acceptance was growing and hesitancy decreased. The survey also revealed significant differences in opinions between people of different faith traditions.

White evangelical Protestants had the highest rate of vaccine refusal at 24%, and the lowest acceptance rates at 56%. Comparatively, the acceptance rates for Hispanic Protestants were 56%, 65% for Latter-day Saints and 66% for Black Protestants. 69% for Other Protestants of Color was 69%, 74% for White Mainline Protestants and 69% for Black Protestants.

Since the 1980s, the IMB has required vaccines for other diseases. Some have opted to not participate in international service as a result.

Esler was a missionary to Bosnia with Pioneers in the 1990s. He said that he needed to be immunized against diphtheria and polio before he could travel.

Esler was not eager to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and he isn't hesitant to encourage others to do the same. He was still traveling and he decided to get vaccinated.

Esler stated that this issue is more important to me because it is COVID-related rather than vaccine-related.

He said, "It is unfortunate that the COVID vaccination here is controversial" and "when it would be highly sought-after in other countries and they can't get it."

___ Associated Press religion reporting receives support through the Lilly Endowment throughThe Conversation U.S. This content is solely the responsibility of The Associated Press.

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