ST. GEORGE — The top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are urging members to wear masks at public gatherings and to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as the pandemic rebounds.
In a letter issued to the church membership on Thursday, the First Presidency said available vaccines have proven to be a safe and effective way to help protect people from the virus and limit its spread. They also asked people to wear masks at public meetings where social distancing may not be possible.
“We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses,” the First Presidency’s letter states. “We know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population.”
The letter further states the war against COVID-19 can be won “if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders.”
Earlier this year, senior leaders of the LDS church – which included the First Presidency, were vaccinated and urged church members to do the same.
Church President Russell M. Nelson, who has a background as a medical surgeon, has called the vaccines a “literal godsend.”
“Producing a safe, effective vaccine in less than a year is nothing short of miraculous,” Nelson said at the time at his own vaccination. “I was a young surgeon when, in 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he had developed a vaccine against the cruel and crippling disease of polio. I then watched the dramatic impact that vaccine had on eradicating polio as most people around the world were vaccinated.”
While the vaccinations are highly encouraged, the church has also stated that individuals are also responsible for their own decisions about vaccination.
Nelson, along with he counselors Henry B. Eyring and Dallin H. Oaks, make up the First Presidency of the LDS Church. They are considered by church members to be prophets – Nelson being chief among them – who speak for God and share his will with the world at large.
Reactions to the church’s renewed call for members to be vaccinated have been mixed on social media. While many expressed gratitude for the church’s stance, others reiterated their own views against getting vaccinated. Others still said they felt church leaders were following the will of man over the will of God and that those that went along with it were blind sheep.
The church has also long-supported parents getting their children vaccinated and issued a statement concerning that support in 1978.
In Utah, where the church is based, a summer surge of the virus among unvaccinated residents has continued to grow while vaccination rates have slightly increased.
New data from the Utah Department of Health showed that state residents who are unvaccinated are 7.6 times more likely to die from COVID-19 and 6.2 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are vaccinated.
About 58% of Utah residents ages 12 and older were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, state data shows. Utah reported three new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 2,521.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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