While the General Conference and North American Division have come out in favor of the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 (Link) many Seventh-day Adventists remain fundamentally opposed to these mRNA vaccines – and to vaccines in general. On the one hand, the SDA Church, as an organization, argues that vaccines are not fundamentally opposed to Biblical doctrine and that the key founder and prophet of the church, Ellen White, was not opposed to vaccines either since she approved of her family members and associates taking the smallpox vaccine – and even took the smallpox vaccine herself (Link). On the other hand, however, those opposed to vaccines within the church have taken particular issue with the invocation of Ellen White on the side of vaccines, arguing that some kind of foul play must have been involved. So, let’s take a look at both sides here and see which side has the weight of evidence:
Table of Contents
- 1 Ellen White on vaccines:
- 2 Response from Adventists opposed to vaccines:
- 3 My own conclusions:
- 3.1 Ellen White and the Smallpox Vaccine:
- 3.2 Youth, Good Health, and Long-Hauler’s Syndrome:
- 3.3 Additional arguments against vaccines by Andrew Michell:
- 3.3.1 Sean Pitman (the rest of William’s Letter):
- 3.3.2 Andrew Michell (I provided the links):
- 3.3.3 Sean Pitman (less than even-handed):
- 3.3.4 Andrew Michell (injecting ourselves with toxins):
- 3.3.5 Sean Pitman (no toxins in mRNA vaccines):
- 3.3.6 Andrew Mitchell (not taking about COVID-19):
- 3.3.7 Sean Pitman (toxins that aren’t toxic):
- 3.4 Related
Ellen White on vaccines:
Letter by William White on taking smallpox vaccine:
There evidence claiming that Ellen White personally took the smallpox vaccine, as did her son William White – and she recommended it to her companions as well. If true, she did this even though she knew that vaccines were risky (much more risky in her day as compared to modern vaccines). Yet, despite what she knew about the risks of vaccines in her day (her own son had been sicked by a vaccine when she had him vaccinated against some other disease as a child – Link), she and her son William both took and promoted the taking of the smallpox vaccine. Why? Well, evidently, the known risks of the vaccine in her day were a whole lot less than the known risks of getting exposed to the smallpox virus. It could then reasonably be argued that the same thing is true today – that the risks of the mRNA vaccines are a whole lot less than the known risks of being exposed to the live COVID-19 virus. Beyond this, it seems fairly clear that Ellen White was not fundamentally opposed to vaccines or she would not have consented, originally, to have her son William get a vaccine as a child – or offer no objection to him getting the smallpox vaccine as an adult despite the bad experience he had with his childhood vaccination. In this line, consider what William White personally wrote about his own experience with vaccines – as a child and as an adult:
Clearly, then, William White chose to be vaccinated against smallpox, with the apparent consent of his mother after consultation with some physicians whom they both apparently trusted – despite a bad experience with a vaccine as a child.
Letter by D. E. Robinson on Ellen White and others taking the smallpox vaccine:
However, Willam does not specifically say that Ellen White was personally vaccinated with all of the others at this particular time. So, is there anything to suggest that she was also vaccinated? Well, here’s what Ellen White’s personal secretary for 13 years (and husband to her first granddaughter Ella – daughter of William White), D. E. Robinson, wrote about Mrs. White taking the smallpox vaccine (seated at the bottom left in the photo):
You will be interested to know, however, that at a time when there was an epidemic of smallpox in the vicinity, she herself was vaccinated and urged her helpers, those connected with her, to be vaccinated. In taking this step Sister White recognized the fact that it has been proven that vaccination either renders one immune from smallpox or greatly lightens its effects if one does come down with it. She also recognized the danger of their exposing others if they failed to take this precaution. – Signed D. E. Robinson, 2 SM 303.5 – 2SM 303.6
Letter by Arthur White on the smallpox vaccine:
Another letter along these lines was written by Arthur L. White (grandson of Ellen White), quoting the above passage written by D. E. Robinson. Arthur White was working at the Ellen White Estates (or “Publications” at the time) and pointed out that Robinson, in the above passage, was responding in a letter (dated June 12, 1931) to the Ellen White Estate in answer to “an inquiry received”. Arthur White then goes on to add, “At another time, speaking of Mrs. White’s attitude toward this question, Elder Robinson wrote:”
“Though fully aware of the practice of vaccination during an epidemic of smallpox, she expressed no disapproval of it either as a preventative or a remedy. Members of her own family were vaccinated and with her approval.” (D. E. Robinson as quoted by Arthur L. White, January 19, 1956)
Response from Adventists opposed to vaccines:
Smallpox and Vaccines:
In response, consider a video put out by Dr. Timothy Perenich (a chiropractor) who is opposed to the idea that the smallpox vaccine was at all helpful in Ellen White’s day, and is opposed to vaccines in general (or a shorter video by Andrew Michell, a very passionate, vocal, and prolific SDA layperson, citing the same arguments). Perenich also wrote a book on this same issue entitled, “Vaccination: Biblical Revelation, Ellen G. White, History, Science“. Particularly relevant to the topic of Ellen White and the smallpox vaccine, Dr. Perenich claims that the decline and eventual eradication of smallpox “had little to do with high vaccination rates.” (Link). Of course, the vast majority of scientists and medical historians strongly disagree with this conclusion – and for very good reason. During the 18th century, smallpox killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans each year. Around 1 in 13 of those living in London would die of smallpox. It was responsible for a third of all cases of blindness. Between 20% and 60% of all those infected—and over 80% of all infected children—died from the disease. During the 20th century, it is estimated that smallpox was responsible for 300–500 million deaths. In the early 1950s an estimated 50 million cases of smallpox occurred in the world each year. As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year. After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the WHO certified the global eradication of smallpox in December 1979 (Link).
Sure, the initial vaccine against smallpox, developed by Edward Jenner, had some significant risks, to include the risk of infection by some fairly virulent bacteria – such as “syphilis, scabies, herpes, trismus (lockjaw), and tuberculosis.” In fact, the smallpox vaccine was one of the more dangerous vaccines ever given – having the highest rate of serious side effects and the risk of death among all vaccines. In the past, about 1 person for every 1000 people vaccinated for smallpox for the first time experienced serious reactions/complications. Even by 1969 studies showed that out of every one million people vaccinated at least one will die due to vaccine complications. It is for this reason that:
“Scientists call it [the smallpox vaccine] the most dangerous vaccine known to man.” (David Kohn, The Most Dangerous Vaccine, CBS News, 2002)
Best Available Treatments for Smallpox in Ellen White’s Day:
However, the risks from being infected by smallpox during the lifetime of Ellen White were so high and so severe, with a death rate of around 30% of all those infected, that the benefits of the vaccine significantly outweighed the relatively high risks of the vaccine. Of course, these benefits and risks would have been well-known to Ellen White. This is true even in the light of the best available treatment of her day. For example, during a smallpox epidemic in 1870, Dr. Merritt Gardner Kellogg “gave water (hydrotherapy) and dietary treatments to his patients, of whom ten out of eleven survived. This earned him a high reputation.” (Link). Certainly, a 9% death rate is better than a 30% death rate, but it still isn’t great. The benefits of the smallpox vaccine would still be more than worth it – especially during an outbreak.
D. E. Robinson Lied:
Yet, Perenich argues that D. E. Robinson was mistaken in his claim that Ellen White ever supported or took the smallpox vaccine (Link). Perenich argues that if this claim were true that Robinson would have mentioned it earlier in a 1915 letter he wrote about vaccines while Ellen White was still alive (Link). He also cites the letter by William White (noted above) describing a time when he was vaccinated for smallpox (Link). He notes that while William and his associates were vaccinated for smallpox without any apparent objection from his mother, that William does not specifically say that his mother was also vaccinated – only that the topic of vaccines was “perplexing” to her because of some problems he had had when he was vaccinated as a child.
My own conclusions:
Ellen White and the Smallpox Vaccine:
Personally, I simply disagree with the conclusions of Timothy Perenich (a chiropractor who doesn’t seem to me to really understand the reasons or mechanisms for modern vaccines). I think that the testimony of D. E. Robinson (Ellen White’s secretary for 13 years and married to her granddaughter Ella), along with the testimony of William White (her son) that he and his associates were in fact vaccinated against smallpox without any objection from Ellen White, is very good evidence that she was not opposed to vaccines by this point in her life (though she certainly had misgivings earlier on, given the bad outcome experienced by Willi when he was a child) and was, in fact, vaccinated herself during an outbreak of smallpox. The very fact that William was vaccinated as a child shows that Ellen White was never fundamentally opposed to the concept of vaccines, or she would never have allowed him to be vaccinated as a child, nor would she have been supportive of his vaccination against smallpox as an adult – along with the others in their group.
As noted above, another letter along these lines was written by Arthur L. White (grandson of Ellen White), quoting the passage written by D. E. Robinson. Arthur White was working at the Ellen White Estates (or “Publications” at the time) and pointed out that Robinson, in the passage where he said that Ellen White was vaccinated for smallpox, was responding in a letter (dated June 12, 1931) to the Ellen White Estate in answer to “an inquiry received”. Arthur White then goes on to add, “At another time, speaking of Mrs. White’s attitude toward this question, Elder Robinson wrote:
“Though fully aware of the practice of vaccination during an epidemic of smallpox, she expressed no disapproval of it either as a preventative or a remedy. Members of her own family were vaccinated and with her approval.” (D. E. Robinson as quoted by Arthur L. White, January 19, 1956 – Link)
In any case, I see no rational reason to accuse Robinson of lying here. Ellen White was a very reasonable woman who took advantage of many of the reasonable advances of medical science in her own day. Of course, she was opposed to the general use of drugs like quinine in various tonics and toxic over-the-counter snake-oil remedies for various ailments that could be cured with reasonable improvements in diet and health alone. However, she also advised missionaries to use the drug quinine to fight malarial infections when in infested regions of the world (see story below of a missionary who tragically misinterpreted various statements of Ellen White on the misuse of drugs like quinine). Beyond this, she recognized the advantages of anesthesia during surgery and the use of medicines to relieve the intense pain and suffering of the injured or sick (Link). She recommended blood transfusions when needed, despite the risks involved (Link) – and even had radiation therapy to resolve a skin lesion on her face (Link).
One time while we were in Australia, a brother who had been acting as a missionary in the Islands, told mother of the sickness and death of his first-born son. He was seriously afflicted with malaria, and his father was advised to give him quinine, but in view of the counsel in the testimonies to avoid the use of quinine he refused to administer it, and his son died. When he met Sister White, he asked her this question: ‘Would I have sinned to give the boy quinine when I knew of no other way to check malaria and when the prospect was that he would die without it?’ In reply she said, ‘No, we are expected to do the best we can. ’—W. C. White letter, September 10, 1935.—Compilers.]—Counsels on Health, 261 (1890).
“For several weeks I took treatment with the X-ray for the black spot that was on my forehead,” she wrote to her son J. Edson White. “In all I took 23 treatments, and these succeeded in entirely removing the mark. For this I am very grateful.”
Letter 30, 1911, as cited in Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years, 1905-1915 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1982), vol. 6, p. 344.
Elsewhere she wrote, “If quinine will save a life, use quinine.”
Selected Messages, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), 2: 282 (footnote); S.P.S. Edwards to F.D. Nichol, November 24, 1957, Question and Answer File 34-B-2, EGWE.
In short, Ellen White accepted and even took advantage of many of the advances of modern medicine, in her day, that she felt were more helpful than harmful – even though she understood some of the risks involved. And, I’m very confident that she would be perfectly fine taking the mRNA vaccine against COVID-19 if she were alive today – since this vaccine is highly effective and far far safer than the smallpox vaccine that she and William took. She also lost two sons and a husband to infections that modern medicine could have cured. If she had had access to these medications, I have no doubt that she would have given them to her husband and children to save their lives.
Youth, Good Health, and Long-Hauler’s Syndrome:
Now sure, if you’re young and healthy and have a great diet and exercise program, your odds of dying from a COVID-19 infection are relatively low (although there is still the perplexing problem of “Long-Hauler’s Syndrome” – aka: Post-acute COVID-19 Syndrome – see 60 Minutes video below).
Long-Hauler’s Syndrome is a chronic condition that is affecting younger healthy people at a rather high rate – even after fairly mild infections by COVID-19.
In any case, a healthy lifestyle is certainly an advantage. That much is true. However, the advantage that a healthy lifestyle gives to the immune system is in regard to the innate immune system. It doesn’t help the adaptive immune system at all (Link). And, the innate immune system gets weaker and weaker, exponentially so, as one gets older and older – despite the healthiest of lifestyles. You simply can’t avoid the ravages of aging on the body and on the immune system. Even the healthiest person with the most perfect of lifestyles will age and eventually die. However, there are other ways to help the immune system as one gets older – specifically in regard to educating the adaptive immune system. How does one educate the adaptive immune system? Well, exposure to foreign antigens helps the adaptive immune system to learn what to attack in the future. What is the safest way to educate the adaptive immune system when it comes to more dangerous bacteria and viruses? Vaccination is the safest way to do this – educating the adaptive immune system without having to experience the actual illness. This is especially helpful for older individuals during this particular pandemic who are most susceptible to it due to their advanced age and loss of the effectiveness of their innate immune systems because of their age. And, if you’re healthy enough to survive the actual bacterial or viral infection, you’re more than healthy enough to do even better with the vaccine – helping not only yourself do better, but those around you as well.
Additional arguments against vaccines by Andrew Michell:
Andrew put out a summary YouTube video entitled, “Reviewing the claim of D.E. Robison that Adventist Church co-founder Ellen White received the vaccine for smallpox“. In this video, Andrew summarizes the arguments and overall views of Timothy Perenich, and promotes Tim’s book. However, in the comment section, we had an interesting discussion as follows:
Sean Pitman (the rest of William’s Letter):
Why not mention the rest of William’s letter where he himself explained that he and his associates did, in fact, end up taking the smallpox vaccine with Ellen White’s knowledge and apparent consent? – despite William having problems with a vaccine as a child? This particular part of William’s letter seems to give additional support to the claims of Robinson that those with Ellen White, including William, took the smallpox vaccine during an outbreak, leaving no reason to support the accusation that Robinson was lying when he said that she also was vaccinated at this time…
Did you complain when Robinson’s 1931 letter was puffed for years without balancing it with his earlier letter? Did you complain when Willie White’s letter was never mentioned? Or do you only complain when these additional evidences are presented? The letter are written in English so everyone can read them for themselves, that’s why I provided the links. And your use of the phrase “seems to give” is just your speculation.
Sean Pitman (less than even-handed):
It just makes you look rather less than even-handed when you only mention the part from William’s letter regarding the harm that a childhood vaccine did to him – while failing to mention that despite this negative experience he did in fact take the smallpox vaccine along with the others with him. And, that his mother knew about this and didn’t try to stop him at all. It also supports the conclusion that Ellen White was not fundamentally opposed to vaccines since she had obviously had William vaccinated as a boy and, evidently, didn’t let this experience cause her to suggest another course regarding the smallpox vaccine as a man.
Overall, it seems clear that both William and Ellen White, and the others with them at the time, decided that the risks for the smallpox vaccine, and it clearly was a fairly risky vaccine to take, were well worth the benefits – given the much much higher overall morbidity and mortality of the smallpox infection itself (despite their own knowledge regarding the best treatments of the day if they refused the vaccine).
Andrew Michell (injecting ourselves with toxins):
Did you even listen to the video? Robinson’s letter is distorted to make the claim that injecting ourselves with toxins like pork gelatin and Canine Kidney cell proteins etc. is acceptable and/or healthy, something that church leadership refuses to justify, explain or prove. Would you please provide the Bible verse or Ellen White quote that explains how injecting monkey kidney cells are an effective way to help the amazing immune system?
Your 2nd argument that because Ellen White did activity XYZ therefore should be a precedent to do XYZ , you cannot seriously believe this?
Sean Pitman (no toxins in mRNA vaccines):
For several reasons, I fail to see the point of your argument? Neither the original smallpox vaccine nor the modern mRNA vaccines have “pork gelatin” or “canine kidney proteins” in them. Sure, the smallpox vaccine in Mrs. White’s day was relatively risky, compared to modern vaccines, but not for these reasons. In comparison, the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 are extremely safe and effective – and clean. The mRNA vaccines, in particular, have no “toxins” in them whatsoever – not even any preservatives or adjuvants. They are synthetically produced, not requiring the aid of being grown within living tissue at all.
As far as the human immune system is concerned, yes, it is amazing, but just not amazing enough after thousands of years in this world of sin and decay. The human immune system, the innate immune system in particular, starts to weaken as a person gets older – regardless of one’s diet and health. This is the reality of the situation we are dealing with here during this COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve had very healthy SDA friends of mine, in their 40s and vegetarian with great diets free from processed foods and in excellent physical shape, end up in the MICU following a COVID-19 infection – with bilateral lung clots and clots in their legs (since this virus attacks the endothelial lining of blood vessels, creating clots). Just last week one of the workers in my office, a healthy woman in her 40s, end up in the MICU following a COVID-19 infection with a large pulmonary embolus that almost killed her (she stopped breathing by the time she made it to the hospital). I’ve had a number of family friends die (mostly over the age of 60) and many more almost die from COVID-19, despite doing everything right (healthy lifestyle, vitamin D, zinc, quercetin, hot/cold fomentations, etc). Clearly, these people needed something more…
So, how does one help out an aging immune system? – once one has maxed out all the healthful diets and exercise programs one can do? Well, the best way to do this is by educating the adaptive immune system. How is this done? Well, by exposing the adaptive immune system to foreign antigens so that it knows what to attack in the future if the body is infected. What is the safest way to do this? Well, via a good vaccine so that the adaptive immune system can be educated without the body having to go through a serious infection first.
Given what we currently know about these mRNA vaccines, and given that Mrs. White vaccinated William when he was a boy and approved his vaccination for smallpox when he was a man (after speaking to the best medical experts available to her), and probably took the smallpox vaccine herself (along with numerous other medical advances in her day), I have no doubt that she would be taking and recommending an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19 if she were alive today. As she once said, when advising a missionary in a region infested by malaria to take quinine to avoid infection, “We are expected to do the best we can.”
But what about your comment that just because Ellen White did “XYZ” doesn’t mean that we should do “XYZ”? Well, we wouldn’t be having this discussion and you wouldn’t have made a video about this topic if what Ellen White said and did regarding a particular topic, like vaccines, wasn’t important to most Adventists. Sure, not everything she said and did was Divinely inspired. However, how she applied the inspiration given to her on diet and health, and the discoveries of science and medicine, to everyday life and the practical problems of her own day seems to me to be significant to our day as well.
Andrew Mitchell (not taking about COVID-19):
“the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19” False, the Robinson quote has been used long BEFORE covid came along and Adventist pro-vaccine puff pieces were published before Covid. You are trying to limit your reply only to Covid, that’s a slick attempt but it fails. Furthermore why are you ignoring my question about biblical evidence for moral acceptability of injecting oneself with previously listed toxins?
Sean Pitman (toxins that aren’t toxic):
So, am I understanding you correctly here that you’re perfectly fine with the mRNA vaccines? – since they have no “toxins” in them? Because, you know, this is the primary reason why the General Conference and Divisions are currently highlighting the apparent support and use of vaccines by Ellen White – in an effort to get people to at least consider taking the mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.
As far as other forms of vaccines and the “toxins” you list, let’s take a look. You say that some vaccines include the injection of “monkey kidney cells”. In 1950s and 1960s the polio virus used to make the oral polio vaccine was grown in cultures of monkey kidney cells. These cultures were then purified so that no cells remained in the vaccine itself. However, there was some contamination of the vaccine, during this time, with the SV40 virus. This virus is known to contribute to some forms of cancer in animal studies. So, did this virus contribute to human cancers for those who received this oral Polio vaccine? Well, “people with cancers who never received SV40-contaminated vaccines were found to have evidence for SV40 in their cancerous cells; and epidemiologic studies did not show an increased risk of cancers in people who received polio vaccine between 1955 and 1963 and people who did not receive these vaccines. Taken together, these findings do not support the hypothesis that the SV40 contained in polio vaccines administered before 1963 caused cancers.” (Paul A. Offit, Frank DeStefano, in Vaccines, Sixth Edition, 2013). Beyond this, modern vaccines are not grown with monkey cells and do not contain the SV40 virus.
But what about “canine kidney proteins”? The flu virus used for vaccines has usually been grown with chicken eggs. However, for those allergic to eggs, there is now the option of a vaccine produced with the use of dog kidney cells or even insect cell cultures. As long as one is not allergic, the tiny quantities of these proteins are not “toxic” to the human system and are quickly broken down once injected.
So, what about the “pork gelatin” you mention? Porcine gelatin is contained in various modern vaccines to protect these vaccine viruses from adverse conditions such as freeze-drying or heat, particularly during transport and delivery. It is also true that some people have allergic reactions to gelatin. However, the incidence of anaphylaxis to gelatin is extremely low (about 1 case per 2 million doses). Beyond this, again, for the vast majority of people, gelatin is not “toxic” and is quickly broken down once injected. Also, the gelatin derived from pigs isn’t really fundamentally different from the gelatin derived from insects, for example. Red seaweed agar (a gelatin-type material) is also used in some vaccines for the same purpose. There is no enhanced toxicity depending upon the source of gelatin for the human system.
The other “toxins” usually cited as being in vaccines are in such small quantities that they are not actually “toxic” to the human body. The concept of toxicity requires that the level of toxicity for a given “toxin” be reached before it is actually “toxic” to the human system. It’s all about dosage. And, again, in comparison, the smallpox vaccine that Ellen White apparently approved for her son and her associates was far more likely to be truly toxic. It was far far more risky to take in comparison to modern vaccines. In fact, the smallpox vaccine was probably the riskiest of all vaccines ever produced. However, as is the case in the current pandemic, the smallpox infection in Ellen White’s day was far far more risky compared to the vaccine. That’s why she apparently had no problem with the smallpox vaccine – which is something you should probably point out if you’re actually trying to be fair with Ellen White’s views on this topic.
Dr. Sean Pitman is a pathologist, with subspecialties in anatomic, clinical, and hematopathology, currently working in N. California.