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SALT LAKE CITY — The available COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and provide protection against severe infections, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a release issued Thursday.
"We urge individuals to be vaccinated," wrote Presidents Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring.
The message was the latest in a number of statements from church leaders throughout 2021 that they support immunization in the struggle against the virus.
"We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic," the First Presidency said. "We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses. And we know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population."
Thursday's release also encouraged renewed use of face masks.
"To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible," the First Presidency wrote.
President Nelson entered full-time church leadership after a renowned career in medicine as a pioneer of open-heart surgery. Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, another senior church leader, was a cardiologist who specialized in heart transplants before beginning full-time church service.
Elder Renlund recovered from a mild COVID-19 infection in December 2020. Just before his infection, he released a video in which he said wearing masks during the pandemic is a sign of Christlike love. Elder Gerrit W. Gong, also of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, recovered from a COVID-19 infection in October 2020.
President Nelson has said he prayed often for the development of COVID-19 vaccines. He called the vaccines a "godsend" in a January social media post after he received his first vaccination shot. The church released a photo of him, along with images of other senior church leaders getting their shots.
That same day, the First Presidency released a statement urging church members to quell the pandemic through vaccination.
In March, church leaders added a section to the church's General Handbook that formalized their longstanding support of vaccines in general. A decision to update the Handbook requires the review and approval of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The issue of vaccinations and masking is also at the forefront of decisions being made by church-sponsored universities.
- BYU is requiring students, faculty and staff to report their vaccination status by Aug. 19 so it can decide whether masks will be required on campus.
- BYU-Idaho President Henry J. Eyring posted a video last week encouraging students to consider vaccination in the face of "serious medical threats." He said 50% of BYU-I students are vaccinated so far. He said 75% is the floor for the percentage of students he wants to authorize full in-class operations for fall semester. He noted that church leaders, including his own father, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, set an example for church members and university students by getting vaccinated.
- BYU-Hawaii will require students to be vaccinated.
- •Ensign College will "strongly encourage" but not mandate COVID-19 vaccinations.
The First Presidency's statement that available vaccines are effective comes two days after new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested 99.999% of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 did not have a severe breakthrough case that led to hospitalization or death, despite the emergence of the delta variant.
"We are dealing with a new foe that's so much more contagious, so it doesn't require that high of a percentage of unvaccinated people to spread but it is spreading faster in those parts of the state seeing lower vaccination rates," Oregon state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger told the Washington Post. "Those counties with higher vaccination rates have a fairly slow rise in hospitalizations, but the counties with the lower vaccination rates have a much steeper rise in hospitalizations."
"Living in a hot spot while vaccinated today is much safer than living in a hot spot while unvaccinated last summer," the Post reported Thursday, based on new data analysis. "High-vaccination states have one-third the number of new cases per capita as low-vaccination states."
Here is the full text of Thursday's official First Presidency statement:
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic. We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses. We know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population.
To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.
We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders. Please know of our sincere love and great concern for all of God's children.
The First Presidency
Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring