The lockdowns associated with COVID-19 have had the effect of straining relationships in a number of places, and the church has not escaped. The threat that worshippers in NSW churches will require vaccine passports before they can be allowed to join in public worship adds an extra dimension of angst. Indeed, this is part of the wider threat that only those who are double dose vaccinated will be allowed to hold their jobs and function in the community at large. Teachers, for example, have been confronted with the option: get the jab or lose your job. 

            There are some 10-15% of the population which is vaccine hesitant, and this is probably about the same in the church. Some are uneasy about the link between the vaccine and an aborted child; some have reacted badly to other vaccines and have no wish to risk re-enacting the experience; some women are pregnant and are cautious about the effect of the vaccine on an unborn child; some have a wariness of anything medical; and some are just hard to get on with. In human history vaccines have sometimes been mandatory and sometimes not, but vaccine rates have never reached 100%. There is no need that they should do so. Polio, for example, reached a vaccine rate of about 84% about 1964, rising later to over 90%, and that was enough to provide herd immunity. That kind of scenario has been common during epidemics and pandemics. 

This means that the call for mandatory vaccines is unnecessarily divisive, and may well be socially foolish. He that complies against his will/ Is of his own opinion still. It is dangerous to coerce the conscience; no good comes of it. 

            Rapid antigen testing (RAT) may provide a solution to this impasse. This is a screening test, relatively cheap (about $8), as effective as it can be for about 72 hours  (i.e. about three tests per week might be needed), and while not as accurate as a diagnostic test where the result is available in two or three days, has the advantage of being available in about ten minutes. The NSW Ministry of Health says on its own website (August 2021): ‘Rapid antigen testing is designed to be done in a range of sites including non-clinical and clinical settings such as construction sites, educational institutions, fixed and temporary community-based sites, aged care residential facilities and commercial businesses such as food production sites.’ 

            On 22 September 2021 Greyhound Racing NSW was rejoicing that it did not have to make mandatory rules on vaccination, but could use either double vaccination or a three minute, $20 RAT (Matthew Benns, ‘GRNSW Quick Out with Rapid Tests’, Daily Telegraph). What is good for the greyhound punters is surely good too for teachers and for congregations. 

            A doctor or nurse or paramedic is needed to supervise the process, but it is not overly difficult. A soft answer turns away wrath (Prov.15:1), and if there is good will on all sides this would seem a promising way to avoid acrimony and confrontation. It is not the new heaven and the new earth, but could be a welcome oasis in troubled times. 

                                                                                                – Peter Barnes