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President Russell M. Nelson prayed often for a COVID-19 vaccine throughout 2020.

To members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Nelson is God’s living prophet to the world. For them, the image is a powerful one: That prophet on his knees praying and pleading for a COVID-19 vaccine to relieve the world’s suffering during a pandemic he once referred to as a plague.

Did President Nelson get the COVID-19 vaccine?

President Nelson, 96, rolled up the short sleeve on his white shirt and smiled behind a face covering on Jan. 19 as a health care worker gave him a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Salt Lake County Health Department in Salt Lake City, Utah.

He was one of eight senior church leaders who received a first dose of the vaccine that day, soon after it became available in Utah to those older than 70. The others were his counselors in the First Presidency, Presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring; the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President M. Russell Ballard; and Elders Jeffrey R. Holland, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Quentin L. Cook and D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

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Empathy, gratitude, optimism, action: 22 times President Nelson provided leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic

What President Nelson has said about the COVID-19 vaccine

“We have prayed often for this literal godsend,” President Nelson said in a Facebook post on Jan. 19, soon after receiving the shot.

“With approval from our physician, my wife, Wendy, and I were vaccinated today against COVID-19,” he 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.”

That same day, the church’s First Presidency, of which he is the head, released an official statement 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.”

On March 31, President Nelson and other church leaders formalized the First Presidency’s long-standing support for vaccinations by adding a statement to the church’s official General Handbook.

“Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life,” the handbook now says in Section 38. “Members of the church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children and their communities through vaccination.

“Ultimately,” the statement continued, “individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination. If members have concerns, they should counsel with competent medical professionals and also seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost.”

The handbook update reemphasized the First Presidency’s consistent direction since at least 1978.

What else President Nelson has done to combat COVID-19

Under President Nelson’s leadership, the church in February gave $20 million through Latter-day Saint Charities to support COVAX, a global campaign to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines to people in low- and middle-income countries.

COVAX has now provided COVID-19 vaccines to people in 119 countries.

Learn more about President Nelson’s COVID-19 leadership

Here are two stories about the pandemic-related leadership of religious leaders, including President Nelson:

Empathy, gratitude, optimism, action: 22 times President Nelson provided leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic

Is faith the key to herd immunity? New research shows that faith-based initiatives could boost vaccination rates among not just the religious but all Americans.

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Behind the scenes

I was scrolling through the photos on my phone and found this. Made me miss walking up to the Conference Center for general conference and passing people seeking free tickets to enter a session. Hopefully this will happen again soon. | Tad Walch, Deseret News
President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gets his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Salt Lake County Health Department in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Jan. 19, 2021. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints