FILE PHOTO: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic 

Jamaica Observer: By Romardo Lyons – Jehovah’s Witnesses were not among the five major religious groups that two weeks ago gave support to the Government’s COVID-19 vaccination programme; however, the millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs is urging unvaccinated Jamaicans to trust science and take the jab.

The endorsement will likely strengthen the health and wellness ministry’s efforts to vaccinate more than half of the population by March next year as the Government tries to shield more Jamaicans from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 and which, up to last Friday, had infected 64,899 people here, killing 1,465 since the first case was reported in March last year.

“Many Jehovah’s Witnesses have made the personal decision to be vaccinated, believing that it is consistent with their respect for the sacredness of life and their desire to always display love to their neighbours,” local Jehovah’s Witness leader Elder Peter Scudamore told the Jamaica Observer.

“While getting vaccinated is a personal decision to be made by each individual, reputable medical studies have shown that those who are fully vaccinated have added protection against the virus, while those who remain unvaccinated must be more cautious during this pandemic,” Scudamore added.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses love life and thus appreciate the many advances of medical science to reduce the risk of serious illnesses. We are also grateful to the medical professionals in Jamaica’s health-care service who are working hard to protect us during this pandemic,” Scudamore said.

One Witness in Jamaica, who requested anonymity, told the Sunday Observer that as an individual she endorses the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I have no problem with the vaccine. I have gotten my first dose. My father and sister have also gotten the vaccine. I would tell unvaccinated persons to get vaccinated now to help reduce the risk of catching or dying from COVID,” she said.

On August 19 the leaders of five major church organisations in the country appeared at a news conference at Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston with Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and urged Jamaicans to arm themselves with facts, rebuke myths, and accept the vaccines.

The five leaders  Pastor Everette Brown, president of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; Rev Dr Peter Garth, president of the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance and senior pastor of Hope Gospel Assembly; Anglican bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and head of the Church in the Province of the West Indies, Howard Gregory; head of the Roman Catholic Church Archbishop Kenneth Richards; and Reverend Newton Dixon, president of the Jamaica Council of Churches  argued that the vaccine matter is “a health issue, not a religion issue”.

Last Thursday, the Ministry of Health and Wellness reported that more than 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines [comprising single and double doses] have been administered since the start of the national vaccination programme in March this year.

The pace of the take-up, the ministry said, has placed the Government in a position to achieve its target of administering 700,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of this September on a mission to achieve herd immunity.

Scudamore told the Sunday Observerthat Jehovah’s Witnesses are “totally distressed” at the loss of lives and suffering that the pandemic has inflicted on the island, especially during the recent upsurge.

“That’s one reason we continue to spread a message of comfort to our neighbours through our letter-writing and telephone ministry. Since the onset of the pandemic, Jehovah’s Witnesses have also sought to give practical advice to the world through jw.org, publishing reminders in hundreds of languages encouraging adherence to local safety guidelines like those outlined by our Ministry of Health. We endorse physical distancing, hand-washing, wearing of face coverings and other practical measures recommended by the authorities,” he said.

The denomination has cancelled nearly 6,000 in-person conventions in over 240 countries since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Our deep respect for life and love of neighbour have also moved us to suspend our public ministry and in-person meetings since March of 2020. We do not want to simply mitigate the risk of infection when it comes to public gatherings, but we have chosen instead to eliminate that risk,” Scudamore explained.

“That is what prompted our decision to hold our ‘Powerful by Faith’ annual convention on a virtual platform for the second year running. This programme is available in over 500 languages and available on our website,” he added.

In March 2021, public information representative Mordecai Tulloch told the Observer that while Jehovah’s Witnesses have been absent from the public’s eyes for the first time in decades, they remained relentless in their evangelistic work. Personalised letters and text messages were being sent out along with phone calls.

In keeping with that approach, described as “disappearing but not being dormant”, Tulloch told the Sunday Observer that the upcoming release of a part of the Power by Faith convention is the fifth of six instalments, all of which were offered virtually.

“This ‘Powerful by Faith’ convention is being delivered in over 500 languages with the upcoming release, which corresponds to the Sunday morning session of the usual three-day event. Faith is a powerful force for good. It can give a person stability now and a reliable hope for the future. Whether someone has never believed in God, has lost their faith, or would like to strengthen their faith, the Bible can help,” he said.

“The most anticipated highlight of the Sunday afternoon programme is the finale of our two-part feature Bible drama, Daniel: A Lifetime of Faith. We are encouraging all to watch the programme for the climax of this faith strengthening Bible production on Daniel. Part 1 is still open for download from jw.org, and the equally thrilling Part 2 will be available from Monday, August 16, 2021,” said Tulloch.