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Senior church leaders over 70 vaccinated, urge members to safeguard ‘themselves and others through immunization’

President Nelson calls vaccine a ‘literal godsend’

President Russell M. Nelson receives the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Salt Lake County health professionals on Tuesday administered the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to those over 70 years old in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We have prayed often for this literal godsend,” President Russell M. Nelson said in a message published on his Facebook and Instagram accounts after he rolled up the left sleeve of his white shirt and smiled while a staffer at the Salt Lake County Health Department gave him the shot.

President Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency also released an official statement Tuesday urging church members to “help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization” because “vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life,” according to a news release.

President Nelson noted that the church has supported vaccinations for generations. Its humanitarian arm, Latter-day Saint Charities, has funded more than 116 million vaccinations for various diseases across the world over the past several decades, according to the news release.

Eight of the church’s 15 senior leaders are older than 70 and therefore qualified for the vaccine now under Utah guidelines. Along with President Nelson, who is 96, the following received the first dose of the two-dose vaccine: Presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency; President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve; and Elders Jeffrey R. Holland, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Quentin L. Cook and D. Todd Christofferson.

The other seven senior church leaders are all in their 60s and will wait for the vaccine with other younger Utahns, including two 69-year-olds, Elders Neil L. Andersen and Ronald A. Rasband.

Leaders’ spouses also received the vaccine — Sisters Wendy Nelson, Kristen Oaks, Patricia Holland, Harriet Uchtdorf, Mary Cook and Kathy Christofferson.

“With approval from our physician, my wife, Wendy, and I were vaccinated today against COVID-19,” President Nelson said in his social media posts. “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.”

Images shared by the church showed several of the leaders with the sleeves of their white shirts rolled up while sitting next to tables covered with syringes and bandages.

Other photos showed leaders working on paperwork and wearing masks — Elder Uchtdorf’s mask bore the phrase “Love, Share, Invite.”

“I’m glad our turn has come to have this vaccination,” President Oaks said in the release. “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.”

President Nelson, a retired pioneering heart surgeon, has led global fasting and prayer for relief from the pandemic, noting earlier this year that “skilled scientists and researchers are laboring diligently to develop and distribute a vaccine against the coronavirus.”

In his social media post Tuesday, President Nelson, who published dozens of medical studies as a researcher, recalled growing up in an America beset with polio and the 1953 announcement by Dr. Jonas Salk that he had developed a vaccine.

“I then watched the dramatic impact that vaccine had on eradicating polio as most people around the world were vaccinated,” President Nelson said in his post.

The church has participated in eradicating diseases through vaccinations. Latter-day Saint Charities has been part of partnerships that helped eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus in Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2019 and eradicated wild poliovirus in Africa in 2020.

Latter-day Saint Charities provides money to 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.”

Here is the full, official church statement:

“In word and deed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has supported vaccinations for generations. 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.

“As this pandemic spread across the world, the church immediately canceled meetings, closed temples and restricted other activities because of our desire to be good global citizens and do our part to fight the pandemic.

“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.

“As appropriate opportunities become available, 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. Individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination. In making that determination, we recommend that, where possible, they counsel with a competent medical professional about their personal circumstances and needs.”