Intercessory prayer in medicine — systematic reviews say it does not work

intercessory prayer

Intercessory prayer, where people pray for the health of someone in a hospital, has been studied for a while to determine whether it is effective. I keep reading that people believe it has been “proven” to work, but I have always been skeptical.

I didn’t realize that there are published studies about intercessory prayer, but I shouldn’t be surprised. There are even systematic reviews that examined the body of research — spoiler alert, there isn’t much evidence that it works.

If intercessory prayer works, I would want to rely upon that famous Carl Sagan quote — “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The indisputable medical evidence supports real medicine, not prayers. The prayer supporters haven’t even been able to provide ordinary evidence.

So let’s take a look at some of the science supporting or refuting the effectiveness of intercessory prayer.

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Supreme Court and Religious Freedom from vaccine mandates – why we should worry

supreme court vaccine mandates

This article about the Supreme Court and how it may use religious freedom against vaccine mandates was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law. Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

On 29 October 2021, the Supreme Court rejected a request to stay – put on hold – Maine’s vaccine mandates for healthcare workers, which did not include a religious exemption. Many people in the immunization community are excited and happy about this decision.

Without wanting to be a downer, I want to explain why this decision – though certainly better than the alternative, staying the mandate – should cause us concern. Basically, three justices on the Court signed onto an opinion that essentially says that public health writ large is not a compelling state interest (in the middle of a deadly pandemic), that thinks that the right comparison is one religious exemption to one medical exemption (rather than consider aggregate effects) and that if other states are less protective of their citizens’ health, a state can’t limit religion to protect its citizens better.

What was not in the decision is any concern about the effects of COVID-19, a disease that is still killing over 1,000 Americans a day. That is highly problematic. But more concerning is the fact that two other justices were not willing to stay the mandate via emergency proceedings, but saying no more, implying that they are open to considering requiring a religious exemption (though they are certainly not saying they would – and these justices probably could use more information on why requiring a religious exemption from vaccines mandates is problematic). 

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Review of religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate

close up photo of a lined up covid vaccines

After President Joe Biden issued a mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine, many anti-vaxxers looked for religious exemptions so that they would not have to get the vaccine. Although no major religion is opposed to vaccines, people have used religious exemptions to avoid vaccinations in the past, it’s just become more serious these days with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

In the USA, people will use this as a “freedom of religion” cause, claiming that they have some constitutional right to avoid the COVID-19 vaccine with a religious exemption. This is a legal issue, which Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss has addressed these issues several times recently. Although I am not a legal expert, blanket religious exemptions can be rejected without worrying about violating someone’s freedom of religion.

In my previous article about religions and vaccines, it is clear that almost every mainstream religion, from almost all Christian sects to Judaism to Islam, shows unambiguous support of vaccines. And for completeness, I’m going to go through each of these religions and describe their support of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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A review of major religions and vaccines – almost all support vaccinations

religions and vaccines

This article, about major religions and vaccines, shows that many claims that vaccinations are against religion are not supported by actual religious dogma. As a result, several states, like New York, California, and Maine, have taken steps to limit and or eliminate religious exemptions to vaccines as a result of the abuse of the exemption.

A while ago, I wrote an article about a father who is suing the New York Department of Education to force a school to allow his unvaccinated son into school. The basis of his lawsuit is that vaccination is against his religious beliefs. 

The father is a Roman Catholic and claimed that his church was opposed to vaccines. As far as I could find, the Catholic Church strongly supports vaccines, with Pope Francis stating that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is an “act of love,” even making it a moral and ethical issue by clearly stating that “there would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious diseases…”

The Catholic Church even supports the use of those vaccines manufactured using permanent cell lines that derive from aborted fetuses. In other words, not only is the Catholic Church not opposed to vaccination, it seems to indicate that it would immoral to not vaccinate.

This all leads me to wonder if there was research into the relationship between religions and vaccines. Of course, researchers much smarter than this old dinosaur examined the issue – spoiler alert, religions broadly support vaccinations.

Continue reading “A review of major religions and vaccines – almost all support vaccinations”

COVID-19 vaccine survey of Americans – atheists love the vaccine

COVID-19 vaccine survey

A new survey of Americans showed that atheists are more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine than any other religious group (atheism isn’t really a religious group). It’s ironic that I consider the anti-vaccine beliefs check all of the boxes of the definition of a religion.

Despite my admittedly clickbait title, this survey showed some interesting results regarding American’s attitudes to the COVID-19 vaccine, including an improvement in the desire to get the vaccine by people of color. But what is troubling that the predicted uptake may not help us reach the herd immunity level to stop this pandemic.

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COVID-19 vaccines employer mandates – legal basics for and against

COVID-19 vaccines employer mandates

This article about COVID-19 vaccines employer mandates was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

The goal of this post is to give a short overview of the law surrounding employer mandates for COVID-19 vaccines. Two caveats. First, this post is not taking a position on whether a mandate is a good or bad idea for a specific employer: it is just setting out the law. Second, this post is focused on employers choosing to require vaccines, not states.

As preliminary comments, I want to remind readers that we do not actually know whether COVID-19 vaccines will dramatically reduce transmission. We know they are very effective at protecting recipients (and very safe), and we have reasonable grounds to expect they will reduce transmission somewhat, but we do not yet know to what extent. 

A workplace or employer mandate is, in part, justified by protecting the workforce – employers are expected, sometimes required, to minimize risks to their workers, and may be liable for work-related harms through workers’ compensation, but mandates are often justified by the protection of others – in this case, co-workers and customers – and if the vaccines do not reduce transmission, there is less justification.

We also do not yet know how long the COVID-19 vaccines’ immunity will last, and whether there are very rare side effects that have not yet been discovered. So this discussion has some uncertainty built-in. That uncertainty, however, would not directly change much of the legal framework described below.

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Atheists support vaccines – well, most Americans support MMR vaccine

atheists support vaccines

A new survey of Americans showed that they are overwhelmingly in favor of vaccines across all demographic groups. But atheists support vaccines more than any other religious designation.

Of course, this article isn’t really about how much atheists support vaccines, although that should be expected, given the fact that most atheists follow evidence rather than faith or beliefs. This article is going to review the detailed survey because if you’re anyone but Del Bigtree or Robert F Kennedy Jr, you’ll be fascinated to know that the vast majority of Americans support the MMR vaccine. Continue reading “Atheists support vaccines – well, most Americans support MMR vaccine”

Religion and vaccines – current religious dogma about vaccinations review

religion and vaccines

This article, about religion and vaccines, shows that claims that religion is opposed to vaccinations are bogus. Recently, several states, like New York and Maine, have taken steps to limit and or eliminate religious exemptions to vaccines as a result of the abuse of the exemption.

A while ago, I wrote an article about a father who is suing the New York Department of Education to force a school to allow his unvaccinated son into school. The basis of his lawsuit is that vaccination is against his religious beliefs. 

The father is a Roman Catholic and claimed that his church was opposed to vaccines. As far as I could find, the Catholic Church strongly supports vaccines, even making it a moral and ethical issue by clearly stating that “there would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious diseases…”

The Catholic Church even supports the use of those vaccines manufactured using permanent cell lines that derive from aborted fetuses. In other words, not only is the Catholic Church not opposed to vaccination, it seems to indicate that it would immoral to not vaccinate.

This all leads me to wonder if there was research into the relationship between religion and vaccines. Of course, researchers much smarter than this old dinosaur examined the issue – spoiler alert, religions broadly support vaccinations.

Continue reading “Religion and vaccines – current religious dogma about vaccinations review”

Court upholds policy denying religious exemptions to vaccines

religious exemptions

In 2014, the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of New York rejected a claim brought by three plaintiff families against various aspects of New York’s school immunization requirements. The decision did not include any legal innovation: it was completely based on well-established precedent that schools can deny religious exemptions. But it offers a chance to reflect on what that precedent is, why it is in place, and what it means for us.

The take-home point? Our immunization jurisprudence gives states substantial leeway to protect the public health via vaccination requirements, specifically, in this context, by allowing states to decide whether, and under what conditions, to exempt students from school immunization requirements. But states have to actually use that power to achieve anything. By leaving the floor to the passionate, if passionately wrong, anti-vaccine minority, we are allowing them to undermine the right of the rest of us to be free from preventable diseases.

In other words, those who vaccinate need to speak up and make it clear to their elected representatives that they want state law to protect their children – and the community – against outbreaks of preventable diseases. The laws will not enact themselves, and our representatives need to know the public wants this protection, that the public does not want high rates of measles cases or other diseases.

Just like the diseases, anti-vaccine legislative successes, such as maintaining religious exemptions, are preventable. And just like the diseases, doing nothing won’t prevent them. Continue reading “Court upholds policy denying religious exemptions to vaccines”

Why do I call it the “anti-vaccine religion”? Let me explain

anti-vaccine religion

A few months ago, I started characterizing the anti-vaxxer fanatics as being members of the “anti-vaccine religion.” It wasn’t an important point to me, because as I constantly stress, the only thing that matters is scientific evidence – the vast bulk of which supports the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

In fact, I know a lot of pro-vaccine people, many of whom are leaders in pointing out the flaws of the anti-vaccine religion, are themselves religious. I am an atheist, but I do not decide who are my friends on social media or real life, based on their religious beliefs. Since almost every major religion in the world supports vaccination, and in almost every case, strongly so,  it’s clear that organized religion and vaccines are not in conflict.

For me, “anti-vaccine religion” was a throwaway line almost tongue-in-cheek, because, from my standpoint, the group acts as if it were a religious cult. In fact, some people I know, who loathe the anti-vaccine zealots, do classify them as a cult. Anyway, of all the things I represent, my obvious pejorative use of religion ranked near the bottom of my “care” list.

Then, this:

Now that Daniel Goldman has thrown down the gauntlet, I guess I’m going to have to fully explain my impeccable (or not) logic. Because from any perspective, the anti-vaccine religion functions like a religion, in some ways, an organized one. Let me explain. Continue reading “Why do I call it the “anti-vaccine religion”? Let me explain”