antivax

Last Sunday during a virtual service at a Pentecostal church in south Trinidad, a mother of three told the members of the congregation that she had heard the “voice from God,” who warned against the COVID-19 vaccine.

“As clear as the day I heard the voice of God say ‘my child I’ve kept you for this long in your life I want you to trust me with the rest of your life,” she said.

“God re-affirmed to me that the vaccine is not for me. He is strong enough to protect me and I will not be taking it,” she said to a virtual congregation of about 50 people.

She is one of countless thousands in the country who remain skeptical of the vaccine despite the emergence of deadlier variants and climbing COVID-19 deaths. But her views are not isolated within some religious communities, where questioning the COVID vaccine has become a moral rite of passage to believers.

“The vaccine is the mark of the beast.”

“God will protect us, we don’t need the vaccine.”

“The people are being led like lambs to the slaughter”.

These are some of the many sentiments noted by the Express in these communities over the past months.

And with this hesitancy now posing a threat to the country’s attempts to achieve herd immunity, prominent religious figures appear to be fueling this reluctance by pushing doubt to their already skeptical congregants.

On Facebook, the “TTResponse,” page on which a group of Christian religious figures have made regular appearances, anti-vaccine sentiments have been popularized by livestreams and discussions. The page has over the past week grown in following by the hundreds.

On Saturday, one such event was held by TTResponse president, Victor Gill (the senior pastor of Redemption Christian Centre) who referred to the country’s vaccination efforts as a scheme to depopulate the world. The Church he pastors in Laventille boasts a following of thousands.

Gill claimed that he and the “smart people,” of Trinidad and Tobago would not comply in being vaccinated and urged listeners to refuse the vaccine.

“The God who we serve is able to deliver us and even if he does not deliver us based on his sovereign wisdom we are still not going to bow and take this vaccine. I don’t know what the future holds for the local churches and the citizens and good people who refuse to bow and take the frankenstein jab. The Prime Minister made a statement saying, “who are you trusting the cross around your neck?”

“Respectfully I say to the Prime Minister you are the head of the state but not the head of the church. The last king that insulted God like that his kingdom fell overnight. Be careful what you say. When you say we are all God’s children you are not theologically correct. We love you Prime Minister and we love this nation, but we will not turn our brains off and take any vaccine,” he said.

The stream was viewed by at least 19,000 and remains visible on the page.

Gill, who holds a Doctorate of Philosophy from the Caribbean College of The Bible International (CCBI), an organization in which he served as Vice President and financial administrator, entertained vaccine “experts,” for a three hour conversation on vaccine efficacy.

These “experts,” ranged from Texas-based cardiologist Dr Peter McCullough (who is currently being sued by his former employer Baylor Scott and White Medical Systems for spreading COVID-19 misinformation), Dr Ira Berstein a family care physician to Canadian ex-professor Dr. Paul Alexander.

The group discussed various counterpoints frequented by anti-covid vaccine movements while criticising the Government’s lockdown and vaccination decisions. Many of the claims made have since been debunked by reputable sources.

These discussions were framed by Gill as religious in nature, using direct biblical references and calling to God to relay his stance. His statements were often aimed at Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

“I don’t hesitate to unequivocally state that we are anti-medical tyranny, butchery, dystopia, and crimes against humanity. We are against the unconstitutional and undemocratic coercion for the frankenstein jab. I want to thank God for helping us and going before us. We walk behind like Joshua. We have been hearing you trust the science but what they really meant was trust the politics of the WHO.”

“To the Honorable Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Keith Rowley, with all due respect to you and as humbly as I can say it, I say after the words of Shadrach Meshack and Abednigo, when it comes to our freedoms of conscience and worship, when it comes to bowing down to something we are not comfortable with, when it comes to telling God’s people to be vaccinated with a vaccine that has not proven to be efficacious and has done much harm already here at home and abroad, let it be known to you, once and for all, we do not care to answer you in this matter of false vaccinations,” said Gill.

The stream’s co-host Michael Mc Dowell, Senior pastor of the Rapha Revival Ministries has since avidly posted snippets of advice to his followers on his social media pages. He referred to the data presented by public health experts as government propaganda.

Mc Dowell possesses a doctorate in Theology according to his website and was at one time the host of a program on the popular Christian radio-station 98.1.

“Hundreds of thousands of informed people in this nation will not submit to vaccination with an experimental, agenda-based, genetic vaccine. Trinidadians are an intelligent, well-educated, thinking, globally conscious population who are able to discern truth from error. We do not need the government’s help to discern truth. The population relies on full-orbed data, unfortunately all we are getting is government propaganda based on false science,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

The Express attempted to reach Mc Dowell for a comment but was unsuccessful.

As the popularity of this position grows since the vaccine’s introduction earlier this year, the Express has observed the responses of people on social media and in person.

On Monday we asked our readers on social media if they would be refusing the vaccine on religious grounds.

While the majority of our respondents said they would not be refraining from taking the vaccine for religious reasons, at least 20 percent of our 47 responses said they would, some quoting bible passages to justify this choice.

“Yes, because science doesn’t believe in God so I can’t believe in science,” wrote one person. Another responded by simply referring to the number 666, one associated with Christian religious lore.

The PM’s plea

At a COVID-19 news conference held on Saturday Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley indicated that only the country’s vaccination plans had slurred in recent weeks with only 36 per cent of the population having received the first dose of a two-dose vaccine. He said that the country was not on track as these numbers did not meet the Government’s expectations.

“Tuesday will be the end of August, but we are not on track. During August when we had the vaccines in hand, we have not been able to get the population to accept those vaccines in any great hurry. Interestingly enough the only time we had that kind of demand in a pandemic was that day when we did not have enough.”

“The bottom line is that we have 800,000 people in this country who can be vaccinated but who are not. When we look at the glass being half empty, we have 800,000 of whom half of them who are required to be vaccinated to bring the figure to 900,000 of the 1.4 million of us and only then can we say that the vaccination program is successful and expected to be clinically useful as it can be given what we know of the virus and its behaviour and the human response. That is not what we expected when we spoke in June, July and August. What can I say?” said the Prime Minister.

Since his plea, some leaders including Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon pleaded with their congregants to ignore dis-information and to be vaccinated.

“I’m asking you, please, please...there’s a lot of spurious information that is flying around that is stopping people from getting vaccinated. The Holy Father was vaccinated. I am vaccinated. Yes, I know it’s a matter of conscience, but we must have an informed conscience. And to have an informed conscience, I’m begging you think with the church,” he pleaded.

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