When I was a child, polio was one of the scourges of childhood, and it was very personal for me. My mother had contracted it in 1919 when she was six years old. It left her with a shortening of her left leg and consequently with a limp when she walked for the rest of her life. This in turn gave her a misshapen pelvis so that the only way for her to give birth to me, her only child, was by caesarean section. One of my mates at school was also a victim. He had to wear a leg-iron and use crutches to walk. We saw newsreels in those days before television of kids our age enclosed in iron lungs from their necks down, with only a strategically placed mirror enabling them to see a tiny piece of the outside world.

            So without a moment’s hesitation, we dutifully lined up in the school assembly hall to get our dose of the Salk Polio Vaccine. Polio has long since been conquered; and I don’t think anyone could have been gladder than my mother was to think that no-one else would suffer the childhood trauma and resultant life-long handicap that she had endured.

            Similarly, we all surrendered to triple antigen injections and more latterly we offered up our kids to measles … mumps … chicken pox and other vaccinations, and ourselves to shingles vaccinations, not to mention the annual flu shots. If we have an abrasion involving dirt or other contamination needing hospital treatment we’d receive a tetanus booster.

            Some years ago I received one of the last smallpox inoculations – the world had recently been declared free from smallpox. So I was free not to have the inoculation, but my doctor advised it ‘just in case …’

            Fast forward three decades and I had several opportunities for brief ministry visits in Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Sudan, Egypt and Yemen. I was strongly advised to be immunised against Japanese encephalitis and rabies. And it was done. Oh, and one other course of tablets was given me to stave off malaria – hydroxychloroquine. I would have thought that Donald Trump, who supported its use for treating COVID-19, was long enough out of office by now for its efficacy in that regard to have been rediscovered. Perhaps some day soon …

            I also remember that when the wearing of seat-belts became compulsory there was a hue and cry about the loss of personal freedom. The only freedom we lost was the freedom to sustain horrendous injuries and worse still the freedom to wipe ourselves or others off in the event of a serious car accident. I’m glad I waived that freedom because ten years ago returning from our grandson’s birthday party one dark and stormy night I lost control of the car which careered into a tree. We were shaken, but realised that we weren’t required in Heaven just then – the seatbelts and airbags saved us.

            Similarly, when it became illegal to drive the car with 0.05% or more alcohol in our blood, we surrendered the freedom to drink beyond the point of safety so that we’d no longer be free to damage ourselves and others – not that we’ve ever had that much alcohol in our blood anyway.

            So my wife and I have been to have the initial dose of A/Z and are booked in to have the second dose in a few weeks’ time. I know that some have had adverse reactions and some have died. I had no reaction whatsoever and Alison felt ‘off-colour’ for a day or two. As far as we’re concerned the only freedom we’ve lost is the freedom to surrender ourselves to more likely suffering and possibly dying from COVID-19 than from its antidote. 

            Like the Apostle Paul, I have an ambivalent attitude towards death: whether to go to be with Christ or remain here on earth and keep working for the building up of the Kingdom. Like him too, I have a healthy respect for government: ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God’ (Romans 13.1-5).

            The Governor-General, David Hurley, himself a born-again Christian who came to saving faith under the ministry of Dr Graham Miller in Hurstville, wrote in The Australian on 26 August: ‘If people don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s their decision, but they should be aware that if there are any consequences for that decision, they’re responsible for them. It’s a personal decision but with that comes a consequence – ill health for you and detriment to the rest of the community. So make up your own mind, but I would urge everybody to get vaccinated.’

            I don’t recall any Prime Minister or Premier ‘back in the day’ being labelled a communist, a dictator or being accused of paving the way for any kind of totalitarian regime because he denied ‘personal freedom’ by vaccination. And I refrain from making any such accusations myself. That’s because I see them all as doing their best whatever political party they belong to, to protect as many of us as they can as, like the rest of us, they feel their way through this present nightmare.

            Anyone who thinks that their personal freedoms are threatened by the way in which this present crisis is being dealt with might just spare a thought for the freedom of others – their freedom to live a healthy life unthreatened by this dreadful disease – and perhaps waive a little bit of their own freedom for the greater good of those others (and themselves).                                                                                                      

– Bob Thomas

(Rev Bob Thomas has recently written an autobiography, All My Hope, which is available as a free PDF download on request to him at revbobthomas@gmail.com