I’ve been interested in learning about those who seek religious exemptions from getting COVID vaccines, so I sought out a local group. I visited their center of operations, observed their formal services, perused some of their literature, and sat down with several of the people who were willing to talk to me. Here is a brief summary:
This group is the local chapter of the “Uncovidians”, and they belong to something called the Church of the Immune. The difference between the Uncovidians and the larger congregation is that while the latter resists getting any vaccines at all, Uncovidians are okay with flu shots, tetanus shots, even heroin injections, but not COVID vaccines, which they consider fake, harmful, and an abridgment of their freedoms. They also don’t believe in wearing masks, asserting that their belief in the God of Immunity protects them and those with whom they come into contact from any serious disease. They meet in what appeared to be a deserted church building.
The Uncovidian literature is mostly excerpts of “studies” they find on-line, as well as quotes from various anti-vaxxers, e.g., “If everybody else has gotten their shots, why should they worry about me?” (John Smith) and “The God of Immunity decides who lives and who dies; my role is let Him do His job.” (Susan Smith) and “Oh, so I’m having a little trouble breathing. It’s just a bad cold!” (the late Shannon Smith)
The texts are illustrated, often portraying the Devil as a bespectacled man in a lab coat with a stethoscope around his neck, sometimes with horns protruding from behind his ears. They read these texts aloud when they get together, and they also plan activities. The activities mostly comprise door-to-door excursions through various neighborhoods, where they sell Uncovidian merchandise—signs, buttons, t-shirts. Some of the sayings on these products:
FREEDOM IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE!
GET WOKE, NOT POKED!
STAY AWAY FROM FAUCI OUCHIES!
YOU CAN MASK UP IF YOU WANT. NOT ME—I’M AN AMERICAN!
BE PROUD OF CROWDS!
I also noticed that virtually all of their assemblies are preceded by a communal prayer:
Give us this day our daily spread
And forgive us our spitting,
As we forgive those who spit on us.
Do not lead us into vaccines,
But deliver us from masks,
For yours is the freedom and the anti-science and Fox News forever.
I asked about the spitting and was told that no one there spits on purpose, but sometimes it can’t be helped.
My interviews with these people did not go as smoothly as I’d hoped; they seemed to be very reticent about their beliefs. Maybe they didn’t trust me. Some examples of my attempts to get information from them:
Me: Why do you maintain that the COVID vaccine is a hoax when all the data show how effective it is?
Uncovidian: Democrats who own stock in the vaccines made up the data. Besides, we’re a religion; beliefs conquer facts.
Me: Don’t you think that having to wear a seat belt and not being able to yell “Fire!” in a theater and being prohibited from carrying a rifle onto a plane also infringe on your freedoms?
Me: What’s the harm in getting the vaccine if it might prevent you from spreading the disease to, say, an innocent child?
Uncovidian: It won’t happen.
They looked like normal people: men and women of a range of ages, different ethnic backgrounds, different body sizes, even different socioeconomically, as far as I could tell. But they were zealous in their refusal to get the shots or wear the masks or accede to social distancing. Obviously, I am fully vaccinated, wore a mask the entire time I was with them, and tried to stay at least five feet away, even when I was conducting interviews. That’s probably what made them reluctant to speak to me.
As I was leaving them for the last time, one Uncovidian, a middle-aged man wearing a casual suit, cornered me by the door. At first I was a bit nervous—Was he going to spit on me?—but then I realized he just wanted to get my advice on an issue that was troubling him.
“I’ve been thinking about what it takes to get a religious exemption,” he said, quietly so that none of the other Uncovidians could hear him. “I’d like to keep my job as a surgeon, and I know a lot of the others don’t want to jeopardize their careers, either. I was thinking of a way to convince the authorities that we’re very serious about this.”
“Okay,” I said, kind of flattered that he was asking me about this. “What’s your idea?”
“Do you think,” he said, “that we could get religious exemptions from the COVID vaccine if each one of us had ‘GOD FORBIDS THE COVID VACCINE’ tattooed on our foreheads?”
I couldn’t help but admire how earnest he was, how sincere all of the Uncovidians were in their beliefs. I smiled. “Yes,” I said, walking out the door. “That’s a great idea.”