A few weeks ago I made the decision to start taking communion via intinction. This is dipping the host into the wine and consuming them together instead of drinking from the common cup (which does contain pretty potent wine, and which is also wiped off by the adminstrants between recipients). My rationalization for this was as follows:
- There are elderly at my church, some nonzero number of whom may have compromised immune systems.
- Elderly people can die from a lot of illnesses I might unknowingly carry and which happen to be going around right now.
- I live a pretty high-stress life in which I don't take the best of care of myself (the best of care I would define as eating properly, exercising daily (with a rest day each week), and sleeping at least eight hours each night) and thus I am at high risk for infection.
- If I did get infected, I would be a carrier of such for some incubation period before I ever even knew there was something I was carrying which could hurt people.
I made this decision for myself, and haven't dared suggest to anyone else that they follow suit, however it is of note that the Episcopalian Church, in preparation for a potential flu outbreak, has reminded parishoners that receiving communion in one kind has been doctrinally determined to be sufficient, which means that just receiving the body and abolishing the common cup is an acceptable measure to undertake in order to avoid spreading the epidemic in an individual parish should an outbreak occur.
That said, I've had a lot of friends asking questions regarding the need to vaccinate their children against H1N1 and I've had some relatives posting helpful information and links regarding reasons to be vaccinated based upon the epidemiology of the outbreak, and I've weighed in on some of those discussions, but I am not going to make a case for vaccinating your children here. I'm going to make a case for vaccinating yourself here. In so doing, I feel the need to make the disclaimer that I have not yet been vaccinated for H1N1 or the seasonal flu at this time, and the reason for this is because there is a shortage of vaccines in my area, such that the large hospitals and clinics are canceling vaccine clinics in order to keep their stores for those at highest risk of death or hospitalization from such. When such is readily available, I will immediately go get vaccinated for reasons I'm about to describe.
The people most at risk for death or hospitalization from flu infection are the elderly, children and young adults under 22, pregnant women, and immunosuppressed adults in none of the aforementioned categories. Within these categories, however, are individuals who are so immunosupressed they should not be given a vaccination at all. You've likely heard that you shouldn't get a vaccine when you are already sick with something else. Well, there are some people in society with cancer, or HIV, or with persistent staph infections, or hepatitis, etc., such that they cannot be immunized at all. Some college kids with run of the mill mononucleosis may be advised not to be vaccinated for a number of months.
What few people realize is that we encounter these people all over. Even if you cannot think of anyone you know in any of these categories, unless you're a hermit and don't go to grocery stores or libraries, don't take public transportation, and vow not to visit a hospital even if someone close to you is hospitalized, you are at risk of making people sick if you get sick. I didn't realize, for instance, that a member of the Jekyll & Hyde cast had cancer until two weeks before the show opened. If that guy gets sick on my watch I'm going to feel horrible, and somewhat personally responsible.
Sure, you might not know you are sick, and feel like you could say "Well, sure, I made them sick, but I didn't know I was sick, so how can I be blamed?" Well, consider yourself under advisement. All of us are potential Typhoid Marys. This flu season (and every flu season) there is a possibility you might make someone sick, and that sickness could kill them. And those of us that are Christians should be all the more aware that just as our driving habits affect the way the world watches us, our vaccination habits may affect our ability to be salt and light to the world. The last thing I want is an elderly person afraid to go to church because there are young people there that might be potential contaminants. I also do not want somebody in the hospital to think twice about calling me to come pray for them because I might expose them (and the other hospital occupants) to the flu. It's beautiful in some ways, for in lowering the risk of sickness for myself, I am also lowering the risks for my neighbor. If enough of us get vaccinated, we might even manage to eliminate the risk pool altogether.
So there are my thoughts, which are, in conclusion, that we Christians should actually be the forerunners of those taking steps to protect society from sickness by getting vaccinated. Here's to hoping that my area gets more supplies so that I, too, can join the ranks of those who are loving my neighbor by sparing him from potentially deadly flu transmission from my house. In the meantime, perhaps you, dear reader, should consider this while you make decisions about your own houses.