Editor’s note: In an April 30, 2021, letter updating the Missionary Department’s April 23 letter: “Young missionaries in the United States who will travel to a mission outside their home country should be vaccinated before traveling. This supersedes the effective date of August 1, 2021, in the previous notice.”
The Missionary Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is encouraging missionaries and prospective missionaries “to safeguard themselves and others by being vaccinated.” Missionaries choosing not to be vaccinated will be assigned to serve in their home countries.
Church leaders in the United States received the latest vaccination directive in an April 23 letter from the Missionary Department.
According to the letter, as vaccinations become more widely available in other countries, missionaries and prospective missionaries outside the United States will be asked to be vaccinated before leaving their home countries.
The Missionary Department letter also references the Jan. 19 statement by the First Presidency: “Individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination.”
“In word and deed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported vaccinations for generations,” the leaders wrote in the statement.
Instructions for young, senior missionaries
The April 23 letter detailed specific instructions for young and senior missionaries.
- For currently serving missionaries, mission medical coordinators are monitoring the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in their respective missions and — under the direction of mission leaders — are informing missionaries when they may receive it.
- Young missionaries in the United States who will travel to a mission outside their home country on or after Aug. 1, 2021, should be vaccinated before traveling. (See April 30 update above.)
- Senior missionaries may travel to their assigned missions — where visa and travel conditions permit — after they have been vaccinated.
- Missionaries who have begun COVID-19 vaccinations should complete the series before traveling.
“Missionaries who choose to not receive the required immunizations, which will now include the COVID-19 vaccination, will be assigned to a mission in their home country in accordance with existing Church policies,” the letter states. “As the COVID-19 vaccination becomes more widely available in other countries, these missionaries will be asked to be vaccinated before leaving their home country.”
Handbook, First Presidency statements
In the latest update of its General Handbook last month, the Church included a statement on vaccinations among several new policy updates.
A new entry on vaccinations (38.7.13) reemphasizes direction the First Presidency has consistently given since at least 1978: “Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the Church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.”
Earlier this year, coinciding with eight senior Church leaders receiving the first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations on Jan. 19, the First Presidency issued a statement on vaccinations.
“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,” the First Presidency wrote in the statement. “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.”
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 that day. 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 had received the vaccination in previous weeks.
“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 personal statement
After receiving the vaccination, President Russell M. 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. “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.
And in February of this year, Latter-day Saint Charities announced a $20 million donation to support UNICEF’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
The donation — to help ensure safe, fast and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the globe — made Latter-day Saint Charities the the single largest private sector donor to date to support UNICEF’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the vaccines arm of the ACT Accelerator called the COVAX Facility.
Note: Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver contributed to this report.