Conservative Christians are the least likely faith demographic to get the COVID-19 vaccination. In an insightful interview. Dr. Finny Kuruvilla, founder of Sattler College, Boston, answers questions about the science behind the vaccines. As conversative Christians largely eschew the COVID-19 Vaccination, this podcast also confronts the question of the Christian witness and our response to the persistence of the vaccine.
Listen to the full episode below:
Titus: Hey everyone, welcome to another episode of that Jesus podcast. I’m your host Titus, joined today by Dru Latin.
Dru: Hey, Titus.
Titus: Hey, I’ve got an original dad joke for you this morning. Are you ready for it?
Dru: Will I ever be ready?
Titus: Well, I hope so, here goes. Why did the current president of the United States, why did he run for president when he was so old?
Dru: To save the Democracy.
Titus: No, it’s because he was just Bidin’ his time.
Dru: So original, Titus.
Titus: Thank you. Thank you. Well, we’re here with a very special guest today returning to the podcast for the second time. It’s the founder of Statler College, Dr. Finny. Kuruvilla. Dr. Kuruvilla holds in MD from Harvard Medical School a PhD in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from Harvard University, a masters degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, and a bachelors degree from Caltech in chemistry. Quite a mouthful. Did I get that correct?
Finny: You got it.
Titus: Alright. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Today. We’re talking about that the COVID vaccination and it’s a very hot topic right now, especially in in the Conservative Christian world. There’s a lot of at, least what I consider to be, misinformation going around and conspiracy theories, and also just a lot of vaccine hesitancy, even from people who don’t buy into some of the more extreme theories.
Um, just a WHO study to kick this conversation off. According to a study by the Pew Research Center white and Evangelicals are the least likely faith demographic to get the vaccine. Interestingly, atheist. Were the ones who are most likely to get it. But 45% of white Evangelicals said that they will probably or definitely not get the covid-19 vaccination. And interestingly, conservative anabaptist seem to be even more extreme. There’s a more, or very popular Instagram polling page that’s called Menno Polls, right? And it did a poll on, how many people were pulled, Dru? Is it like 800?
Dru: That’s right.
Titus: Yeah, like 800 conservative Mennonites, the kind of Mennonites who get on Instagram and take polls which is probably more thinking type, and 76% of those people who were polled said, they would not be getting this code vaccination.
Dru: Actually, it was worse than that was actually, it was good like 600 plus hat just said no vaccinations, period.
Titus: Oh, wow, okay, and so definitely not the COVID vaccination. So is, is that a problem Finny? Do you think that that’s a bad witness to the world, and why do you think this is the case?
Finny: It’s a really interesting phenomenon. And you know, I think we want to say first, that you know, the goal that that we as Christians have is not to evangelize any position, either a pro vaccine or anti-vax position, to the extent that its eclipses is our desire to testify what’s most important. And so as, as strongly as I feel about these issues, which I’m sure that will come through over the course of our time here, I don’t want to have this be something that divides people and I think that can introduce a whole different set of problems. One of the things which I’d like to ask is, in answering your question here, is why is it the case that there is such a discordant number with respect to Conservative Anabaptists. An I think there’s a couple of reasons, actually a good reason, which is that there is a greater suspicion of government and status quo and that can be healthy. Right? We all should be people who are asking good questions and not just following the herd blindly. The Bible speaks about how the world is under the power of the devil. And for that reason, it is good to have a healthy suspicion of things that are popular or that are standard. So that I think that’ s something we want to affirm.
The part that is not good, and one of the reasons that I would personally have concerns over that, is there’s a widely appreciated phenomenon where the less you know about a subject, the more confident you are about it, the Dunning-Kruger effect which is widely demonstrated in many fields. So, if you don’t know a lot about vaccines, you tend to have the most confidence about vaccines, and conversely, the more you know, about vaccines more uncertain you are the less, in other words, the less dogmatic a position that one takes. So that’s, that’s some of the underlying reasons why. And I think one of the huge factors that has put a fog over, not just vaccines, but a lot of medicine in general, is a misunderstanding of what’s at the heart of modern medicine.
And I’ll just tell a quick story here that, I have too many of these stories, but this is one that’s especially memorable. On two separate occasions, but Ill highlight one, different churches have approached me because I’m a physician by training and said we have a patient who has cancer, and in both cases, these were young women with breast cancer in their thirties and forties. And here is there the paperwork, here is the diagnosis. What do you recommend? And in both cases, one especially, there was a very straightforward chemotherapy that has a greater than 90% chance of functionally taking that person to be to go into remission. And I set over the papers and all the data and it was, if you had to get a cancer, this is one that would be a good one. Well, came back that this family was not so interested in that. They kept saying they wanted to go with natural based therapies. An alternative instead of the traditional. And she ended up dying in her in her thirties, even though there was a treatment that was there. She had huge amounts of money, that church ended up paying huge amounts of money to an alternative medical practice that did, quote, natural medicines. And I look at this and I think, wow, a young woman, in her thirties, with children, who almost certainly could have lived a near normal life with traditional therapies ended up having a mistrust, to the extent, that my pleading, and I felt like I was pleading, for her to go on therapy. She didn’t want to do that, the family didn’t want to do that and she ended up dying within a couple of years. That is very common. I used to treat cancer patients and that is all too often the case that people will run away from evidence-based medicine in favor of quote-unquote natural.
And I’ll just say a tiny bit on this because I think that the stage for our discussion of the vaccine. The modern medical world is built on, what is called, evidence-based medicine. Evidence-based medicine simply says you have to run what’s called a clinical trial in order to prescribe something. So, you’ve got to take a group of people and run them through this trial where a computer randomly puts half of the people in in one group, where they’ll get this experimental therapy, and half of the people will get a blank which is called a placebo. So, this is really important. It’s called a randomized clinical trial, where a computer decides. Because you don’t want any selection bias. You don’t want people, who are more aggressive, choosing one arm or any kind of preference there, so it’s got to be a computer that flips a coin, so to speak. That puts you into different groups. And then also what’s called a double-blind treatment where the patient doesn’t know what they’re getting, and the doctor doesn’t know what they’re getting. Only the computer knows. And vials are labeled such that you can’t tell if it’s just a blank saline or the actual therapy. And again, you want that to be double blind because we know that if people believe they’re getting therapy, then they tend to get feel better, that’s the placebo effect. And the whole, the whole enterprise of modern medicine is a series of publications where people have run these evidence-based, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled, clinical trials, that’s the phrase. And when it’s all done you unblock the study and you look to see if people who got the therapy get better and what side effects do they have. The FDA requires that for approval in the United States. You have to run it two separate trials. Two separate phase three studies. Before that, you have to run what’s called the phase 1 study to demonstrate safety. And then you have to run a phase two study to demonstrate that it works, and then two large studies that are randomized double-blind. So, this is what people don’t appreciate. This is what hundreds of millions and billions of dollars go into every year to run these clinical trials in a disciplined fashion.
The world of alternatives and natural therapy is very different. Where you can actually go to market, so like Titus you and I could go to market today. We can take grass clippings from our backyard, put it into a vial and sell that in a store and say it supports immune health, it supports this, it that. FDA won’t regulate you. It’s the wild west. You can say whatever you want, and people are actually more inclined to believe that than the former that has all these publications and all of the FDA approval process. I think it’s amazing phenomenon that people would be more inclined to go with the quote-unquote natural or alternative therapies. Now just a couple more comments on this before getting directly to the vaccine issue. That the companies, that run these clinical trials, what they do is they searched the whole world for herbs and sponges, sponges like marine sponges, and tree barks, and they’ll take those into the lab and test them to see if there’s any kind of promising results of that. I happened to actually do my PhD on a molecule called rapamycin that was discovered in the soil of Easter Island. Some scientists were searching out exotic locations to buy new drugs and low and behold, they found this molecule called rapamycin and it went through that whole approval process and it is currently FDA approved and people use it for cancer as well as organ transplant. Now what’s fascinating is that many of the natural therapies that people use, they’re actually taking the rejects that the pharmaceutical companies have already looked at. So, the vast majority of what’s approved in the United States are natural products that were found, like I said, in a sponge, or a tree, or in the soil like in the case of the rapamycin. They were carefully tested to see what is the right dose, how often should you be taking it, does it work, what are the side effects. When people go with the quote-unquote natural therapies, they’re taking the things that the pharmaceutical companies have already rejected because they were unsafe or didn’t work. They’re both natural, right, the traditional medicines tend to be natural even though they’re labeled as having a brand name on it. If you’re taking rapamycin, you’re going to pay a lot of money because somebody had to run all these clinical trials and if you go to the local health store and buy the natural therapy, you’re also getting something natural but it’s been rejected because its unsafe or it doesn’t work. And so I don’t think people really get this.
I don’t think people get the way the world works and medicine and these companies. Like I said, I myself worked on one of these molecules. I still work in health care at work now or more on running companies, on boards, etc. and the most people don’t get that. The last piece I’ll say on this, is it the traditional system, the traditional healthcare system, normal doctor’s office, or the hospital, it does feel a bit cold. It does feel like you’re a number. It does feel like you’re kind of just cranking through the system. And some of the appeal of the, of the alternative world is that it feels more personalized. It feels a little more warm and caring and it doesn’t quite feel like you’re a cog in some massive factory. And so again, I get that there’s a deep psychological reason why people are attracted to the world of alternative therapy. Now, now with all that said, with that statement being said, now we can get to your direct question about vaccinations.
I think because of this fog of confusion that exists, even before COVID-19, people were already primed against the traditional healthcare system where it’s evidence based and you have to demonstrate that you have efficacy and you don’t have significant adverse events to cancel out the benefits that you have. So that was already there. That was in the air long before COVID hit. COVID is yet another example of exposing these biases and predispositions that people have against the healthcare system and against this this general way of running clinical trials, which we can talk more about the specifics in a little bit. So, I do think it is a problem, and I think it’s a problem that comes from, mostly from ignorance. Like I said, there is a good aspect to it, which is a healthy suspicion that can be there. But I think that, that unhealthy ignorance which then leads people to just have these reflexive reactions against evidence-based medicine and not even knowing how to read a clinical trial paper, not knowing what’s involved in that has led people to run the other direction.
Now what makes it even worse is the internet, which is the widely appreciated phenomenon of the echo chamber that people live in where they can now find their opinions reinforced. So now people have polarized because now you were already were biased against an evidence-based product, like a vaccine, and so now you’re going to hang out virtually with people on Facebook or some web page, who are going to find cherry-pick data points that are going to reinforce what you want to believe and it comes in the demonization of the other side. And both sides think the other size operating on fake news and it’s like a huge mess. What, in the end, should really persuade people is the ability to actually go through the data, and I’ll go through a little bit of that with you in a moment, in a careful, systematic way to analyze is this actually something that provides a net benefit. Everything has some risk. There’s is nothing that doesn’t have some kind of downside to it, but in that balance of risk and reward, is the reward better than the risk? So that’s a long answer to your question. I think it’s a problem. I think it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get us out of that and a lot of careful thought to hopefully get the community to a stronger place.
Titus: Yeah, very well said. Before we get directly to the vaccine, I am curious you gave a few talks on you know, Christian response to the pandemic early on, has there been anything that like as, the pandemic has persisted, that has surprised you, or are you pretty much where you were at early on as well?
Finny: The main surprised that I’ve had about the whole pandemic, and I’ve done a lot of talks over the last year, more than a year now, and I was on record in one of my earlier talks thing that I didn’t think that the vaccines would be approved in 2020, and they were, so I was dead wrong on that. They, they did go through faster than I thought they would. We can talk more about that.
Is that concerning that they got there faster? I have personally been involved in many companies that have done vaccine development, from there from the healthcare industry side, and board side, and normally the pathway to go from idea to approval is like 7 to 10 years and in my mind because I work with so many companies, I’ve seen all the steps involved and I thought there’s no way we can go in 9 months from idea all the way to approval. So, I was proven wrong on that, happy to be proven wrong on that.
Dru: I think it’s amazing.
Finny: It really was amazing. I think it’s one of the great triumphs of medical history that we could go and develop this vaccine as fast as we have. Other than that, I would say I have not been terribly surprised by a lot of the oscillations in the virus emerging sometimes with great speed and then being subdued and all that. I think it’s followed fairly predictable patterns.
Titus: Yeah. Well, let’s get into the vaccine now as we alluded to, there is a lot of misinformation about vaccines generally and, more specifically, about the COVID-19 vaccine. So, could you explain briefly how most vaccines work and then what’s different about the MRNA covid-19 vaccines?
Finny: Yeah. So, the traditional vaccine is very simple. They take an inactivated form of the virus that they either can’t produce disease or it’s been boiled or chemically treated so that is inactive. And then you get an injection of that, some of them are oral, but somehow you consume that and your immune system recognizes this virus sufficiently well enough to attack it. But because the virus can cause disease then you can just attack it, learn how to how to respond to it. And then when you do see the live virus, we’ve already been trained, your immune system has been trained, on how to attack it. What’s different about the MRNA vaccines is that instead of giving any viral, or inactivated virus, or anything like that, they’re actually giving these little nano particles that have what’s called RNA, a messenger RNA, inside of them and mRNA is the instruction code by which our bodies make proteins. So, proteins are sort of the business end of what you do. So in your, your eyes, your muscles, your brain, you have a bunch of proteins that are like the little engines and workers that make you do all the things that you do. But the way that you make an RNA, the way they make a protein or the workers is there’s these letters of DNA and RNA that are pre-specified from your parents that specify the instructions on how to build these proteins. And so, what the mRNA vaccines are doing is they’re just giving the RNA and so the RNA, once it goes into your body, your cells then become little factories that make the protein which is RNA encodes. And in this case, they make this so-called Spike protein, which most people heard about it. It’s what makes the coronavirus look like it has this little halo with spikes around it. And so your body is actually making the spike protein. So, it’s not, you’re not getting inactivated spike protein from dead virus, your body’s manufacturing it. It’s a very clever idea to have your body be used to manufacture a part of the virus, not the whole virus, just that one part and your immune system sees it and says, oh no, what is this and it trains itself on how to attack that. So, then when you see the real COVID, the real SARS-CoV-2, then you’re already primed on how to attack and destroy that. So, that’s the basic innovation that was pioneered.
Dru: Can you give us a picture of like how these, what do you call them, nanoparticles are like created, is each vaccine made in a lab or is it something that you grow?
Finny: What’s really neat about these mRNA vaccines is they’re all done synthetically. So, there’s no cells involved. There’s no growth of anything there all just chemicals. And so the RNA is a long chemical, you can think about, is like beads on a string. And so the lipid nanoparticle is this literally just a chemical and there’s a little device that basically mixes the RNA and the lipid nanoparticles together. It almost looks like a, almost looks like a heating system. Like down in my basement, I have a heater there that runs on natural gas. It’s got all these pipes that connect and its mixing, it’s literally mixing these RNA particles. So, what’s really encouraging about this vaccine is that a lot of the ethical questions, which we can talk about in a little bit, are severely diminished because, as I said, it’s an entirely chemical and synthetic process.
Dru: Gotcha. And so you have these factories turning out the stuff and we already talked about how quickly this was fast-tracked, the vaccines. Should we be concerned about the vaccines because they haven’t been tested, we haven’t seen, you know, long term impact or should we be pretty confident that they are safe despite the short timeline.
Finny: Yeah. I’m going to share my screen here because I think this will help to understand exactly that question. and I’ll try to give a voice over for those who can only have audio access. So, I want to just really quickly walk through one of the of the vaccines, this is one of the leading ones, the one made by Pfizer.
It was the first one that got approval in the US and it’s the one that the most people have received here. The way that it works is you have, on the right-hand side here, I’m just showing a picture of a vial with the blank, it’s just saline, and that’s given three weeks apart here. See this calendar here and then on the left is, it was experimental, now it’s approved on an emergency basis. This vaccine BNT stands for BioNTech. That’s the company that Pfizer partnered with, and that’s given at the same frequency three weeks apart, and then what you do, what they did was they took 38,000 people. They have not had COVID-19 before. And the computer randomly put them into these two groups, with the placebo, the blank, or to receive this vaccine. This is called the two-arm study. The patients didn’t know what they got, and the doctor didn’t know what they got. So, it’s a blinded study as well. And then they said go home, live your life, if you get COVID, let us know. So, 170 people out of the 37,706 did develop COVID and the question is, what’s the distribution of those cases? What you’d like to see is that more people of the 170 got it on the placebo. Because the placebo should be doing nothing. And hopefully this is causing protection, the vaccine is causing protection. And so, what they did is they waited a couple months and the computer unblinded the results, like okay, world, this his how many of the 170 got the placebo versus the active. Here’s the results. This was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which is the top journal in the world. So, 162 of the 170 cases were on the placebo arm and eight of them were in the active arm or on the vaccine arm. And so if you take 162 and divide that by 170, you get the number 95%, and so that’s why that’s why you’ll here this number, that the vaccine is 95% effective. So, it’s a pretty straight forward concept to understand how this can demonstrate to show it’s efficacy, efficacy means does it work. Now the question is, what kind of subgroups does it work or not work in. So, they look at all different kinds of groups. They stratify them by age, older people, younger people, age, ethnicity, BMI which is how heavy you are, various diseases, and low and behold, across all different subsets, they saw the same efficacy of between 98% and 100% efficacy across all of them. So, this is like awesome. And I nominate this slide here as the feel-good chart of 2020 because it, it just works. Of course, everybody wants to know about serious adverse events. So, there’s mild adverse events, and there’s serious adverse events. So mild adverse events would be your arm hurts or you have a headache or something like that. We know that the vaccine does cause more mild adverse events, which is to be expected. Your immune system is being recruited to your arm, and it’s almost like a bee sting, right? When your immune system is being recruited, it hurts. So you do get more mild adverse events. Most people know that and don’t care about those. What really matters are the serious ones. And I read this paper in great detail, I looked at every case with my own eyes and you can see here that 0.5% of people had a serious adverse event, and 0.6% of people on the vaccine arm.
And I looked through all the cases and like one person, for example, developed an arrythmia in the 0.6% on the vaccine side. One person developed a shoulder injury. One person developed what’s called a leg paresthesia, they got a tingling in their leg. Now, the doctors have to decide, do they think it’s related, or unrelated to the vaccine. So, there’s always this question that you have to think about which is that people get injured and get sick at their baseline frequency. And the reason you do a placebo is to try to figure out, is this vaccine causing anything different than just the normal background rate of diseases that people get. So, if you put a group of older people together, some of them are going to develop an arrythmia over the year. The doctors, who didn’t know if this was placebo or vaccine, they deemed that these events were unrelated to either the vaccine or the placebo. They deemed that they were just incidental illnesses that were developed. And so, there was a temporal association, a time-based association, but no a causal association. I’ll tell you; I’ve looked at a lot of vaccine approvals over the years, and this is about as clean as it gets. This is not statistically significant, so between the two, this is basically the same. And so, I’m very optimistic. There were some concerns about Bell’s Palsy, which is where you get drooping on one side of your face. It’s gone into hundreds of millions of people, I actually have the vaccine. I got the Moderna vaccine. My wife got the Pfizer vaccine. Both of my parents go the vaccine. My wife’s parents got the vaccine. And it’s been totally fine. So, as clinical trials go, and vaccines go, RNA vaccines are pretty amazing in terms of their huge benefit that you get. This far, not a clear signal for adverse events other than the ones I mentioned, the headache, the feeling sick, kind of like you have the flu, which only lasts for a day or two. So, all in all, I think this is extremely encouraging.
Titus: Have there been any confirmed deaths in America from the vaccine since millions of the people have been getting it? Now of course, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but have there been any directly linked deaths from the vaccines?
Finny: Yeah, it is controversial. It is possible there have been a couple. I would say the jury is still out. The most clear negative that we’ve gotten so far is there is an association with the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clotting, and some of you may know that has been cause for some countries to pull back on that particular vaccine and even then, it’s not a huge signal, but that has been demonstrated. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not even been approved in the U.S, so it’s not even particularly relevant for those of us who live in the U.S. That has been, probably, the most concerning of all the signals that we’ve seen thus far. The death signals, the putative death signals out there, are rare, and wow, awfully hard to figure out if they’re caused by the vaccine. It’s been given to hundreds of millions of people at this point and so there’s a lot of real-world experience that we have with that. In fact, just in the United States, April 8th, more than 170 million people have gotten the vaccine. Or, 170 million doses, I should say, have been given in the U.S. and about a billion world-wide. And if there’s a signal, boy, it is really, really low. Most certainly when you think about the risk of COVID, the consensus is now that the death rate from COVID is around 0.3%. That is a vastly higher chance of death from COVID than the vaccine.
Dru: So, I appreciate that a lot. I think some of our listeners and some of my friends will hear that and will say, but how can we believe them? The kind of thinking where there’s this deeply entrenched skepticism about all scientific medical establishment statements. You want to come on and acknowledge that there have been possibly a few deaths, but in the millions of doses, it’s incredibly small. The signal is hardly there. How do you maintain nuance and integrity without giving space for people to say, ahah, they’re covering up? How do you help people with that kind of conspiracy theory mindset?
Finny: Yeah, so, that’s a great question. The first thing that I want to say is that all vaccines do have some kind of signal of adverse events. Like, I don’t think there’s ever been anything that’s been approved, from Tylenol to a vaccine, that doesn’t have an adverse event. So let me give an example, so like the Polio vaccine, we know that about 1 in 2 million recipients of the vaccine actually developed Polio. So, this is the inactivated form of the vaccine and for complex reasons, we won’t get into now, a number of people, very rare, 1 in 2 million, actually developed real Polio. Same thing with Yellow Fever, it was about 1 in 1 million there, who developed a form of Yellow Fever. And we know the measles vaccine, which a lot of people have had, it’s called the MMR vaccine, about 1 in 30 thousand people would have low platelets and these little bleeds, these little small bleeds on their skin called petechia. So, we want to acknowledge that, and we want to say that everything has a risk. Everything has a risk. And there’s no such thing as reward without risk. There’s just no such thing in life.
But the real question is not, is there risk, but what is the relative net benefit? And I think what all of us have to do is ask as we weight those two, is the reward outweighing the risk? So, your point there, Dru, what we need to do is be open about the risk and say, hey, these are what they are, and list out the specific cases to be published in journals like the New England Journal of Medicine. You have to lay it out in great detail. And to encourage people, I always encourage people to go directly to the website. Go directly to nejm.org. You can find the paper, it’s free, anybody can read it. They specify in great detail. Even if you’re not trained as a doctor, you can figure out enough to be able to read the section where the adverse events are described. And just do, even back- of- the- envelope, simple math. I don’t expect anyone to know calculus or advanced statistics, but you can do fairly back-of-the-envelope math here and calculate, for example, what percentage of people have contracted COVID in the United States. I won’t get into all the math here, but you can take the number of deaths that are out there, and divide by .03% and you will find that about half of American has had COVID so far. Some people had it and know they had it, some people and were tested, some weren’t. Then you say, okay, well multiply that by 0.3% and that gives you the number of deaths we’ve had. What is your chance of dying from COVID? Now, let’s calculate on the other side, what is your chance of some adverse event coming from the vaccine, right? So, you could do these and it doesn’t require any more than, I would say, ninth grade math, and come up with a pretty compelling case for why that relative risk-reward is favorable. Because, remember, we’re not comparing the vaccine to nothing. We’re comparing the vaccine to the risk of getting COVID, and getting either long-haul COVID or, if you’re young, you probably wouldn’t die, but there are complications that come from COVID. So, that’s the net analysis that we need to do. And to encourage people, look for yourself, look at the data yourself. Don’t just believe some random news website. Don’t just take it on hear-say, but do the work. It doesn’t take much time. Twenty minutes of time and I think you could get yourself a really strong case of why the reward is outweighing the risk.
Titus: So, lets get to, probably the largest concern for a lot of conservative Christians, that’s about vaccines that are produced using fetal tissues, tissues and aborted baby cells. Is that an ethical concern? Should we not be getting vaccines that are produced in that way? Also, specifically, are the COVID vaccines produced using fetal tissue?
Finny: Yeah, so the mRNA vaccines are not, the Pfizer one that I mentioned is produced completely chemically and synthetically. You don’t have to grow any cells for that, and it’s the same with the Moderna one. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine was made with fetal cells and so for those that have that concern, I would avoid the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. It’s a very tough issue. It’s a lot more complex than people think and I think to just have a few minutes on understanding what this is about will help to bring a lot of clarity to it. The thing to say is that these are, what is called, fetal cell lines; and the key word there is lines. What do I mean by lines? So, if I take some cells from any of the three of us on this call here. I take some blood or some skin and I grow it in a dish, and I can do that. So, those cells die after a certain number of divisions. So, as it turns out, our cells have, preprogrammed into them, a limit of how many times they will divide before they undergo something called apoptosis. Basically, they die after a certain number of divisions. So, this a preprogrammed wonder that our cells have. Now, what the scientific community wants to do, is they want to be able to make something, because before the mRNA vaccine, everything was grown, but to have a consistency of product, which means you have to grow it from the same cell line. Now, what do I mean by cell line? A cell line is something that is made immortal. So I can take cells from any of the three of us, and I can fuse it with a cancer cell, or I can do other manipulations to the cell, and make it so that limit is no longer there. So, it will divide forever. So, when I was a PhD student, I worked with a lot of these cell lines, some very famous cell lines, like HELA. HELA stands for Helen Lane. She was a woman with cervical cancer. Some of her cells were taken and somebody used those, immortalized those and millions of scientists for decades have studied that cell line. What happened was, particularly in the 1960’s, different cell lines were made from the products of, or remains of aborted babies. And there’s about half a dozen or so, cell lines that were made, mostly in that time period, that are still used today.
So, this is important because most people when they hear this are like, oh there are new abortions happening and like, this whole industry is having babies ground up or something like that. It’s not that at all. What they would do is they would isolate just tissue from one of these babies and make a line out of it. And the, because scientists need consistency, because if you’re making a vaccine, you need every line to be the same. You don’t want there to be variations. So, if I took a line from my cells and another from Titus’s cells, you’d have chaos. Quality control would be terrible. So, cell lines are really important to get consistency. So, just to point this out, there were these cell lines that were made way back when, that have been propagated to this current day. That alone should change the perspective that people have, that the industry does not depend on new abortions. I’m not saying there’s not bad people out there that are doing that, but the industry does not, and certainly not any of the big companies are not doing that, like Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson are not doing that. This is really, really important, because from an ethical perspective, I don’t think it’s quiet as clear-cut on either side, and I’ll tell you where I land in a little bit.
So, I’ll give an illustration of this. When I was doing my PhD, I was studying rapamycin, and I’ve mentioned that before, and I was trying to study rapamycin in what are called primary pancreas cells. Primary means not a line. So, primary means that it came from fresh tissue. And so the reason for that is when you make a line the composition of the cell changes, and for reasons that you can imagine, cells that are immortal are going to just be different from cells that just die after a certain number of divisions. And so, I needed these primary pancreas cells when I was doing my PhD. So, I had to wait for someone who donated their body to science, so it used to be this little sticker you put on your drivers license that says when I die, I’m donating my body to science. So, I would site around the hospital waiting for somebody that would donate their body to science, and then we would harvest the pancreas, I would isolate those pancreas cells and we would put in the rapamycin and I would do my experiments. So, the thought experiment that I would give you is, let’s say that someone died in cold blooded murder, just awful murder. Let’s just say someone shot him or beat him or something like that. But they had on their drivers license that they want to donate their body to science, and I was the one who received that and I studied their pancreas cells. Would that be and endorsement of murder? Would I as the scientist somehow be complicit with murder? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s a fair accusation to make, that the scientist who is studying the body of an individual who died from this sinful process, I don’t think the scientist has culpability for that. I think most people would agree. In the same way, and I maybe I’ll even share a link here. I don’t know how we can get this out to everybody.
Titus: We can put it in the show notes.
Finny: Okay. So, I’m going to email you a link here which is very important to understand, which is the way NIH, NIH is the National Institute for Health, they’re the ones that fund the vast majority of the research in the United States. There’s a very important clause which I want your readers to look at for themselves, which says, you cannot, if you are studying the remains of an abortion, have in any way been responsible for inducing that, or asking for that or coordinating it. It has to be something where somebody already chose it and they just decided to donate the remains of the abortion to science. And you have to be able to demonstrate that and sign a piece of paper saying that. My wife and I, we have eight children, but we’ve had a few miscarriages along the way, and we’ve had the opportunity to donate the remains of the fetus to scientific research. And so, you have to sign consent forms, you have to go through that. It’s the same process that exists for doing that with an abortion.
So, even to study the remains of an abortion, the signing off saying hey I don’t know this person, I’m not connected, they made some previous decision there. There’s a pretty strong wall that legally exists for obvious reasons, right. I mean it would be a terrible thing for someone to be inducing or coercing an abortion for some medical or scientific reason. So, that is the, I’m going to say 99.999% of the time, what happens.
Now, again is there some bad actor out there who’s violated that? Probably. I’m not aware that any of the lines that are in existence out there that are anything but that. That are the incidental remains that were studied by scientists after the tragic decisions that were made. I’m a strong pro-life advocate, I really believe in that. I have a talk online for anybody who wants to hear my perspective on abortion. So, you know, this fear that people have that there are these evil pharmaceutical executives saying like, oh get an abortion and I’ll pay you money and I’ll use those cells to make a vaccine. I mean, that is like so far from the truth that it’s hard to even know where to start to refute that.
The way that I personally land on this now that I’ve given that long preparatory background, is I wish they had not chosen those lines, because it muddies the water and I think it’s just, and the fact I had to explain that for fifteen minutes, it’s too much and I wish that people had selected other lines. It’s not as easy to do that with adult lines, but there probably could have been ways to have done that. It would just take away the confusion and the baggage. I tend to align more to the Catholic church there, that I don’t think this is ideal, but I don’t think that someone who receives these vaccines that’s the product of a cell line from the 1960’s is wrong.
Undoubtedly, there’s the sad story of the woman who elected to have that abortion, but the scientists who studied those remains, I don’t think they’re culpable there. So, I see it as not the ideal, but I don’t think there’s more culpability. And I’ll go a little bit further and say that if somebody takes a strong stance on that, and says that we can’t have good benefits accrue from these tragic events, I would say that those of us who live in American are the beneficiaries of a lot of sins that the founding fathers made with respect to driving away Native Americans, rebellion, war, etc. and we’re still beneficiaries of that, right? We’re all beneficiaries of some of the wisdom that went into crafting those documents. And so, I do think it’s a bit of a double standard if we’re, if we’re willing to take benefits from other things, but not this one. Another example would be factory farms. A lot of people don’t realize how much ongoing cruelty there is there, or a lot of the sweat-shops. There’s a lot of places out there that there’s bad things going on and we can be the beneficiaries of those. I think, without endorsing those. And I think you can be a good citizen of America, I should say a law-abiding citizen, without endorsing all those decisions that the founding fathers made. And in the same way with this whole cell line question, I don’t think we have to be endorsing abortion at all to do that.
Now, my comment on this is that, by vocalizing that and saying to the companies, hey, use different lines, try to go down different ways, I think that is a good step to defog the issue and be a good voice for pro-life in a world that increasingly is not.
Titus: Yeah, that’s really helpful. As we wrap up here, just one last question, do you have any predictions for how this vaccine will begin to end the pandemic? You know, when it first started coming out, I was really excited. I started telling everyone all the numbers will start going down and it’s all over. And then we’re seeing some spikes recently which is disheartening. Do you think those spikes are just in new case numbers and not in deaths because a lot of the at-risk people have been vaccinated? Do you think the vaccinations will be able to push those numbers back down, or is there really no way to predict this?
Finny: The reason that the numbers aren’t going down as precipitously, they’ve gone down a lot, they’ve fallen about 80% since January. So, we do have a lot to celebrate and I’m personally very excited about that. But the reason that we’re seeing it still persist, is that schools have reopened, a lot of people that have COVID fatigue that were previously at home have come out of the woodwork and are starting to circulate. And so, that’s what we would expect. That just as confidence grows, that would somehow cancel out at least some of the benefits there.
When you look at countries that have had much higher success rates of, I would say, distribution, Israel would be a great example. They’ve vaccinated almost 60% of their population as of today, April 8th. And, wow, they are saying the 98% of deaths are now occurring in the unvaccinated, meaning that they’ve seen a hug benefit from the vaccinations there. And their cases and deaths have fallen very, very dramatically. England is a little bit ahead of us. They’ve also seen great results. There’s no doubt that it works. There’s now a lot of real-world, on the ground experience. We in the U.S just have our own unique, and even state by state quirks about when populations are rolling out and how it all comes together with respect to, especially the unvaccinated. Frankly, this is where, I wish more people would be on board with the vaccine, but if more people were on board with it, the full herd immunity would kick in which would then decrease variance and all kinds of positive benefits accrue as a result of that. So, so I’m still optimistic that the numbers will continue to go down, although we still have a long tail on that, because 20-30% of people will probably never get vaccinated in America, that’s a hundred million people, so this fire has got a lot of people to burn through before it’s done.
Titus: Yeah, that’s good. Thanks for everything you’ve shared. I’ve actually not gotten it yet, but I’m on the list. Because I work outside and I’m young, I think I’m toward the end of the list, which is fine, but I look forward to getting it when possible and encourage our listeners to, even if you’re a strong antivaxxer, to just consider another side and think about, you know, the witness that we as Christians want to leave in the world of caring for the vulnerable and not being one of the reasons that this pandemic continues to exist. But if anyone wants to find more of Dr. Kuruvilla’s work, he has a book, King Jesus Claims his Church, that you can find on Amazon. And you can also go to the Followers of the Way Boston YouTube channel and there’s a lot of his work there. So, thank you so much, everyone for tuning in, and Finny, thanks so much for your time.
Finny: You’re welcome. God bless you.
Article on efficacy and safety of Pfzer v@ccine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2034577
Article on fetal tissue in v@ccnes: https://grants.nih.gov/…/4.1.14_human_fetal_tissue..
You can get more content from That Jesus Podcast on these platforms:
More from Dr. Kuruvilla:
King Jesus Claims His Church: https://www.amazon.com/…/B00I…/ref=dp-kindle-redirect...
Followers of the Way: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMspMiO6aWcdCAsolP29-Og
Also check this discussion about COVID-19 restrictions, church gatherings and loving our neighbours by Titus Kuepfer, Matthew Milioni, David Eicher and J. Anthony Hertzler on the Dank Kingdom Podcast from 2020: