Is religion standing in the way of how we combat coronavirus?

Bishop Oyedepo

In unsurprising fashion, the General Overseer of Living Faith Church Worldwide (Winners Chapel), David Oyedepo, recently told his congregation that no one can force them to take the coronavirus vaccine if they don’t want to. ”I’m telling you that no mortal man has the right to force you to take a vaccination.” the cleric said. He also stated that the reason Africa has a low coronavirus case count compared to other regions is because of the dominant presence of God.

As is already known, the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the world for over a year now, countries putting in lockdown measures, promoting physical distancing and mask-wearing to curb the spread of the virus. In the midst of the bleakness, news about developing a vaccine offered hope: renowned pharmaceutical company Pfizer partnered with Biontech for this cause, and it was later revealed that the vaccine that was made was more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 infection.

More COVID-19 vaccines have sprung up like Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceauticals), all approved by the FDA in America. And although the vaccines have come with some mild and short lasting side effects like fatigue and headaches, the vaccine still stands as a scientific breakthrough. This is not to say inoculations can’t give serious side effects as more clinical trials and research are done.

Vaccination programmes have also rolled out across Africa. With vaccine hysteria and uncertainties, 1.67million Nigerians have been fully vaccinated out of over 200 million. In truth, it’s a very small number. But the problem with Oyedepo’s utterances is that it prevents his followers from corroborating his statements elsewhere or seeking information from specialised professionals or experts. While vaccinations appear to come down ultimately to personal choice, for which he is right, religious figures often insert themselves in fields that they aren’t trained for and thus, misleading their congregation.

Africa’s low coronavirus cases, if we can still call it that, is due to the fact that Africa lacked the capacity to test for the virus. So, essentially, it had nothing to do with God. Pastor Chris Oyakhilome spreading falsehoods and conspiracies about coronavirus, specifically linking 5G technology to the virus. Not only that, but also about how the rollout of coronavirus vaccinations will be used to install a ”new world order’ led by the antichrist. This led to sanctions in the UK. Even beyond Nigeria, there have been pastors and evangelicals who denied or minimized the existence of coronavirus, only from them to ironically die from it.

At the core of this discourse is religion and science in conflict. Be that as it may, religious figures and authorities need to reckon with how they wield so much power, and how misinformation can lead to disastrous outcomes.

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