First Presidency urges Latter-day Saints to wear masks, be vaccinated

As numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to rise globally, the First Presidency is urging members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use face masks in public meetings and be vaccinated.

“We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic,” wrote President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, in the message Thursday, Aug. 12, and sent to Latter-day Saints around the world. “We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses. We know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population.

“To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.”

The First Presidency expressed “sincere love and great concern for all of God’s children” in the message, sent as confirmed cases across the globe exceeded 204 million, with the United States passing 36 million and some states instituting face-mask mandates.

“We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders,” they wrote.

Prayer and fasting

Nearly a year and a half ago and immediately prior to the 2020 April general conference, President Russell M. Nelson invited Church members and others around the world to fast and pray for “physical, spiritual and other healing” in response to the spread of COVID-19.

In the months preceding President Nelson’s plea for prayer and fasting, the Church donated 79 pallets of personal protective equipment to China. During that time, the Church also announced that general conference would not be held with a live audience at the Conference Center. Temples around the world were closed to work for both the living and the deceased. And missionaries were sent home, reassigned or otherwise taken care of to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19. 

At the April 2020 general conference, President Nelson asked for a second worldwide fast, on Good Friday the following week. Many individuals who aren’t members of the Church joined in that fast as well.

President Nelson invites all worldwide to fast for ‘physical, spiritual healing’ in response to COVID-19

In the 17 months since the worldwide fasts, multiple vaccines have been developed and distributed around the world. 

Temples began to reopen in July 2020 in a phased process that has continued to today. President Nelson called the decision to close the temples “painful” but also discussed the “silver linings” of the situation. 

Prayer and fasting was also met with action by the Church in terms of both administrative counsel and various actions to help curb the spread of the virus. 

Eight senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
Eight senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday morning, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

2021 COVID-19 response

In January, President Nelson and other senior Church leaders were vaccinated. He explained the process of counseling with his wife and physician prior to receiving the vaccine and encouraged others to do likewise. 

“We have prayed often for this literal godsend,” he said in his post on Facebook.

Before his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Nelson’s profession was as a physician and pioneering heart surgeon.

In the same Facebook post, President Nelson shared that the Church has contributed to vaccination efforts for decades. 

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

For example, between 2000 and 2015, Latter-day Saint Charities helped reduce the worldwide rate of measles by 74%. Those vaccination efforts also include efforts to immunize against rubella, maternal and neonatal tetanus, polio, diphtheria, pneumonia, and yellow fever.

The First Presidency also released a statement on vaccinations the same day as President Nelson’s post. 

“The Church urges its members, employees and missionaries to be good global citizens and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization,” the statement said. “Individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination.”

In March 2021, the Church made adjustments to the “Vaccinations” section of its General Handbook encouraging members “to safeguard themselves, their children and their communities through vaccination.” 

Do all you can to bring COVID numbers down in your area so that your temple opportunities can increase.

In April’s general conference, President Nelson said to members of the Church, “Do all you can to bring COVID numbers down in your area so that your temple opportunities can increase.”

That same month, young missionaries in the United States received notice that they must be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to travel to a mission outside their home country. 

The Church also announced in April that it would support the global organization UNICEF through Latter-day Saint Charities, the humanitarian aid arm of the Church, with a $20 million grant to help distribute 2 billion COVID-19 vaccinations in 121 countries and territories. 

History

In 1978, the First Presidency urged members of the Church “to protect their own children through immunization.” They counseled in that same letter: “Immunization campaigns in the United States and other nations, if successful, will end much needless suffering and erase the potential threat of epidemics. Such efforts are deserving of our full support.”

Red Cross nurse gives measles vaccination to African child. The Church has contributed money, facilities and manpower to aid the massive initiative.
Red Cross nurse gives measles vaccination to African child. The Church has contributed money, facilities and manpower to aid the massive initiative. Credit: American Red Cross

At that time, COVID-19 did not exist. The battle was instead against the spread of polio, measles, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, mumps and tetanus. The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that these are among 14 diseases that have been largely eradicated thanks to vaccines. 

In 1985, the Ensign magazine published an article encouraging parents to immunize their children from various diseases. The article included a chart produced by the Relief Society with a suggested timeline for immunizations available at that time. 

In 2012, immunizations became a focus of the Church’s humanitarian efforts. At the time, the Church was also working to provide clean water, emergency response assistance, training for newborn resuscitation, vision care and wheelchairs. 

Learning through trials

Looking back at the way individuals reacted to the changes caused by COVID-19, President M. Russell Ballard confidently declared that the world would win the “war on the coronavirus.”

He also shared his feelings about the strengthened relationships that came about because of the coronavirus. 

President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“We are coming to realize how precious our families are, how precious our neighbors are, how precious our fellow Church members are,” he said. “There are lessons we are learning now that will make us better people.”

Speaking in a devotional to the Church’s missionaries last August, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf pointed out another lesson that is applicable to everyone. 

“Focus on the things you can do and not on the things you cannot do,” Elder Uchtdorf said.

Focus on the things you can do and not on the things you cannot do.

Earlier this year, Elder Uchtdorf also encouraged members of the Church to “move forward and upward as you apply what you have learned during the pandemic.”

Before members could move forward with worship in the Church’s temples, Elder David A. Bednar asked them to reflect on the covenants they had made there. 

“Perhaps for a little longer we cannot be physically in the temple, but is the temple in us? Are the covenants and ordinances in us?” asked Elder Bednar. 

Speaking at RootsTech Connect earlier this year, Elder Bednar said, “If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, then in limitations and in constraints there can be remarkable blessings.” 

In an interview with Church News, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “We will look back on this as a foundational time of preparation, and not just something we had to endure.”

Speaking at a devotional for BYU-Idaho students, Elder Cook also said, “Gratitude is the first step towards optimism and good cheer.”

Regardless of the Church’s recent or long-term history of working through pandemics, maintaining a focus on the Savior and His Atonement remains paramount in order to feel peace amid turmoil. 

“As we love, follow and worship the Savior, we will have peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come,” Elder Cook said.