Senior Church leaders receive COVID-19 vaccine, encourage members to safeguard themselves, others ‘through immunization’

After eight senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination in Salt Lake City on Tuesday morning, the First Presidency issued a statement on vaccinations.

“In word and deed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported vaccinations for generations,” the leaders wrote in the statement. “As a prominent component of our humanitarian efforts, the Church has funded, distributed and administered life-saving vaccines throughout the world. Vaccinations have helped curb or eliminate devastating communicable diseases such as: polio, diphtheria, tetanus, smallpox and measles. Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life.”

The First Presidency also urged Church members, as appropriate opportunities become available, to “be good global citizens and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization.”

President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination, they wrote in the statement. “In making that determination, we recommend that, where possible, they counsel with a competent medical professional about their personal circumstances and needs.”

All members of the First Presidency and five senior members of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning. The eight leaders and most of their spouses — who qualified in Utah for the vaccine because they are over the age of 70 — followed health care workers, first responders and other high-priority recipients who received the vaccination in recent weeks.

The following senior leaders received the vaccine: President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson; President Dallin H. Oaks and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks; President Henry B. Eyring; President M. Russell Ballard; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland; Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf; Elder Quentin L. Cook and his wife, Sister Mary Cook; and Elder D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Harriet, prepare to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Harriet, prepare to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“As this pandemic spread across the world, the Church immediately cancelled meetings, closed temples and restricted other activities because of our desire to be good global citizens and do our part to fight the pandemic,” wrote the First Presidency in the statement. “Now, COVID-19 vaccines that many have worked, prayed and fasted for are being developed and some are being provided. Under the guidelines issued by local health officials, vaccinations were first offered to health care workers, first responders and other high priority recipients. Because of their age, Senior Church leaders over 70 now welcome the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

President Nelson’s social media post

After receiving the vaccination, President Nelson issued a personal statement about vaccination on his social media accounts.

“With approval from our physician, my wife Wendy and I were vaccinated today against COVID-19,” the 96-year-old leader wrote. “We are very grateful. This was the first week either of us was eligible to receive the vaccine. We are thankful for the countless doctors, scientists, researchers, manufacturers, government leaders, and others who have performed the grueling work required to make this vaccine available. We have prayed often for this literal Godsend.

“As a former surgeon and medical researcher, I know something of the effort needed to accomplish such a remarkable feat.  Producing a safe, effective vaccine in less than a year is nothing short of miraculous.  I was a young surgeon when, in 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he had developed a vaccine against the cruel and crippling disease of polio.  I then watched the dramatic impact that vaccine had on eradicating polio as most people around the world were vaccinated.

“For generations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has donated considerable resources to making vaccinations available for people in developing countries.  Vaccinations have helped to eliminate diseases such as diphtheria and smallpox.  My professional and ecclesiastical experiences convince me that vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life.

“Receiving the vaccine today was part of our personal efforts to be good global citizens in helping to eliminate COVID-19 from the world.”

History of support

The Church of Jesus Christ has recognized the importance of vaccinations and immunization for decades, according to a Newsroom article. “We urge members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to protect their own children through immunization,” the First Presidency said in 1978

Since 2002, through its humanitarian organization Latter-day Saint Charities, the Church has helped fund 168 projects in 46 countries to bless more than 116 million people. Latter-day Saint Charities gives monetary support to prominent global immunization partners to procure and deliver vaccinations, monitor diseases, respond to outbreaks, train health care workers, and develop elimination and eradication programming. The results include more immunized children and fewer lives lost to measles, rubella, maternal and neonatal tetanus, polio, diarrhea, pneumonia and yellow fever. 

Notable success stories of late include the elimination of diseases throughout Africa. In 2019, Latter-day Saint Charities and partners such as UNICEF USA and Kiwanis International helped eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus in Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Late last year, thanks to UNICEF and partners such as Latter-day Saint Charities, Africa eradicated wild poliovirus. And in response to a measles epidemic in Chad in 2019, UNICEF and its partners helped vaccinate 653,535 children between the ages of six months and nine years over a one-week period.  

“I’m glad our turn has come to have this vaccination,” President Oaks said Tuesday morning. “We’re very hopeful that the general vaccination of the population will help us get ahead of this awful pandemic. It’s hopeful, like the light at the end of the tunnel. There is relief and appreciation involved for those who have invented the vaccine and for those who have caused it to be generally available on a sensible priority system.”