Religious leaders from the Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities in Kenya recently came out to support the government’s efforts to vaccinate the population against Covid-19. They called on their congregants to shun myths and misconceptions associated with the vaccine and to get vaccinated in order to better protect themselves from severe illness and hospitalisation as Kenya ramps up its vaccination efforts.
This is an important step. And we need to see more of it across the continent. As in many other regions, religion plays a pivotal role in Africa. More than 90% of Africa’s citizens identify with a particular religion. In Kenya, 71% of citizens consult with religious leaders. As religious leaders, we must feel the weight of this responsibility.
When Covid-19 struck, it hit religious organizations quite hard. Although many pivoted to online services, these were far from an ideal substitute at a time when congregants to be needed to feel a sense of community more than ever—amidst heightened anxiety, loss and an uncertain future. But they were our best resort to save lives. So, as religious leaders, we followed the guidance of public health experts.
Across the continent, religious leaders have been keenly aware that they play a crucial role in curbing the spread of Covid-19 and educating congregants on ensuring their personal safety in the same way that they played a critical role in educating communities around HIV/Aids.
I have witnessed first-hand the heart-breaking impact Covid-19 has had on my congregation. I was therefore relieved when the vaccines became available in Kenya. However, myths and conspiracy theories have posed a tremendous threat to vaccination drives with many people – including
in my own congregation, many of whom are suspicious of the vaccine. Some feel it was rushed. Others about its possible effect on fertility. Still others feel that perhaps taking the vaccine is against God’s will.
In my opinion, religion – and by extension religious leaders – need to contribute to the greater good of humanity. God provided scientists with the wisdom to develop these vaccines.
The vaccines were developed at an incredible speed. As a Christian, I see that as a blessing and a miracle of grace: God, in His sovereignty, working through scientists, policy makers and regulators to accelerate the vaccine development process. We shouldn’t pit faith and science against each other. They are complementary – not mutually exclusive.
There is no question that faith-based outreach that supports science-based approaches can help to encourage vaccine acceptance. For my own part, I am recommending that my congregants and the entire community are vaccinated as it is the only way we can achieve economic recovery and any semblance of normality.