Louisiana Pastor Bucks COVID Vaccinations As 'Contamination' to Bloodstream

Pastor Tony Spell rejected the idea that only doctors can advocate against getting vaccinated and told congregants on Sunday that it's against "common sense" to "contaminate your bloodstream" with a COVID-19 vaccination.

Evangelicals are among the most hesitant group of people to get COVID-19 vaccines, and with them making up about 25 percent of the population, it could pose a risk to America reaching herd immunity. Religious and community leaders have proved instrumental in overcoming vaccine hesitancy, but some church heads, including Spell, aren't on board with promoting inoculations.

Spell told congregants God gave them "common sense." Applying that, he said it was nonsensical to "contaminate your bloodstream with something that may or may not hurt you" if you have a 99.6 percent survival rate.

As of Thursday morning, America reported more than 31 million cases and 560,000 deaths, the most of any country, and had a death rate of about 1.7 percent, putting the survival rate at about 98.3 percent. However, the likelihood of a person dying of COVID-19 increases significantly with age.

When factoring in cases involving only people who are 50 or older, the death rate jumps to about 5 percent, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That percentage increases to about 10 percent when looking at people over 65.

Spell, who has regularly bucked COVID-19 restrictions, told congregants he was "proud" to be "anti-government" if that meant he was "anti-mask and anti-vaccine." The leader of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, went on to criticize those who argue pastors aren't in a position to give their opinion on vaccinations.

tony spell vaccine pastor
Pastor Tony Spell criticized people for getting vaccinated against COVID-19 because it "contaminates" the blood stream. In the photo, busses of congregants arrive at the Life Tabernacle Church before Easter services on April 12, 2020. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

He didn't mention anyone by name but criticized a bishop at a large pentecostal organization who pointed out that an anti-vaccine and anti-mask pastor wasn't a doctor. Since the bishop also wasn't medically trained, he said, "I'm not going to tell you to be against it or for anything." Spell likened it to someone saying he couldn't correct his children for using a double negative because he isn't an English teacher.

A Pew Research poll released at the end of March found 45 percent of white evangelicals would "definitely" or "probably not" get the COVID-19 vaccine. This makes them the most hesitant religious group, and Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois, told the New York Times the pandemic will go on "longer than it needs to" if a "significant number" of white evangelicals don't get vaccinated.

Religious and community leaders proved instrumental in Mississippi's effort to get Black Mississippians vaccinated. Dr. Jerry Young, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church and president of the National Baptist Convention, told Mississippi Today that he and other faith leaders advocating for vaccinations created a "significant decrease" in hesitancy in their congregations.

"It's about leadership, and in our community, it's extremely important for those of us who have that kind of trust to lead by example," Young said.

Just as faith leaders' influence can persuade people to get vaccinated, it's also possible they can influence their congregants to not take the vaccine. Spell is not only against the vaccine, he has also shown he doesn't appreciate being told when or how he can hold services. He kept his church open throughout the pandemic against Louisiana's restrictions and warned congregants it's a slippery slope after civil liberties are taken away.

"We're the church where people are still free as Americans," Spell said on Sunday. "When civil liberties are taken from us, religious liberties will be taken from us as well."

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