Policy and Position on Covid
Badrinarayan Swami / May 16th, 2021
Hare Krishna. I have been asked several times what my position is regarding Covid prevention practices and vaccinations. Here is my answer.
Let me preface the following by saying that no one is barred from participating in the temple programs if they choose to not be vaccinated. Whether or not to be vaccinated is a personal decision. All that is required of those choosing to not be vaccinated is that they follow the common courtesy protocols of mask-wearing and social distancing.
There are those who argue against even these simple requirements. Regarding the value of wearing masks, all we need to do is look at the millions of doctors and nurses who have been wearing masks for over 100 years. They wear them because it works.
There is also the simple fact that wherever mask-wearing and social distancing have been implemented, the cases of Covid drop.
Yes, I have seen the counter-studies. However, not all studies are of equal quality and weight. One can find “studies” on-line that will support any point of view. For example, there are “studies” that warn about the risks of wearing seat belts. They contain factual cases of rashes, fabric burns, broken arms, even deaths. The numbers, without context, are sobering. However, when we factor in the millions of people wearing seat belt compared to the rare cases of injuries, when we compare the number of lives saved compared to those that would have been lost if people had not been wearing a seat belt, the whole picture changes.
Frankly, when does common sense prevail? There are good reasons why our mothers and the school nurse taught us when we were children to not sneeze or cough on others.
While we each have the right to make decisions about our own health, what we do not have is the right to put others at risk.
Ashram life is a special case
If we were each living alone that would be one thing. Do whatever you want in your private world. However, communal / dormitory-style living is a whole different ballgame. The monks in the ashram are sharing bathrooms, cooking facility, and are daily in close physical proximty with each other. Those not taking the situation seriously, who become annoyed or upset when reminded to wear masks properly etc. are asking us to put the other devotees at risk. Again, while the anti-advocates have a right to their own opinions, they do not have the right to dismiss and ignore the rights of the other ashram residents. We do not have the right to gamble with the lives of others. Wearing masks (and doing so properly) is a sign of mutual respect and of appreciation of the rights of others.
At least for now, no one new will be allowed to spend the night or move into the temple as a resident without being vaccinated first. To be clear, those already living in the ashram are not obliged to get vaccinated. They are only required to seriously follow mask and social distancing protocols. The requirement of a vaccination is only for those new people who want to move into the ashram or to spend the night.
Let me start by saying that I have received both doses of the Moderna vaccination. I am 69 years old, diabetic, and have a heart condition. For me, it was a no-brainer. In my case, the benefits far outweighed the risks.
Yes, some people have had serious side-effects from vaccinations. The anti-advocates present this as proof that getting vaccinated is dangerous. But again, let’s look at this in context. The side-effects (blood clots) occur in 1 in every 3 million people vaccinated. The odds of being killed in a car accident are 1 in 103. This means that we are 30,000 times more likely to be killed in a car accident than we are to be seriously harmed by a Covid vaccination—yet I don’t see the anti-advocates bailing out of cars and walking instead.
Anti-advocates say that the vaccinations were rushed into use with unprecedented speed. That is a fact. However, it is also true that never have so much funding and the skills of doctors and research laboratories around the world been so focused on a single effort. Thus, while the time span to approval was shortened, the research, review, and the computer modeling of trial testing were exponentially increased
It is also significant that Srila Prabhupada voluntarily got vaccinated for the flu—twice. That fact was very convincing, at least for me.
There is also the consideration of personal choice vs social responsibility. What about our social duty to help the world get ahead of the Covid curve? As long as Covid has a sufficient host population to infect, it will continue to mutate into more contagious and virulent strains. We are seeing this happen before our eyes, around the world. The newer strains of Covid are more easily transmitted, far more dangerous, and are having their devastating effect on a much younger population.
It is a race against time. If we don’t reach a sufficient level of herd immunity, if Covid is allowed to continue to mutate into more virulent versions, using the unvaccinated as a breeding ground, we will see a resurgence of cases. In addition to the massive level of human suffering and death, all of us will also have to struggle through another wave of government mandated lockdowns.
Yet another wave of government mandated lockdowns means attendance at temple programs will again be severely impacted. Forget about the wonderful experience of packed temple rooms on festival days. We will have yet another year (and who knows how many more years thereafter) with no blissful Ratha Yatra festivals. Krishna Lounge / Mantra House attendance will crash or be greatly restricted. Expect to again see people skittish about stopping to talk with the sankirtan devotees out on book distribution. Home programs will continue to be shut down and our senior leaders and sannyasis will be unable to travel and give their association.
This is the point about our shared social responsibility. It is the calculation of taking a minor risk for the greater social good. Some people think “Let others get vaccinated while I will not, and I will still reap the benefits”. “Let others take the risk and I will skate by at their expense”. Frankly, this is selfish. Where is the personal responsibility, where is the compassion, in such a calculus?
Lastly, as a senior member of ISKCON, I have a personal responsibility to protect the devotees. As I am criticized now by some for insisting on masks and social distancing, as I am currently criticized by some for advocating for vaccinations, I will also be harshly criticized if another wave of Covid sweeps through and devotees get sick and some pass away. I would rather be criticized now but know in my heart that I did what I am convinced is best for the protection of the devotees, rather than following the easier path of taking no stand and staying neutral.
I recognize that the decision whether or not to get vaccinated is a balancing act of risks and benefits. I understand that there are strong emotions on either side. As I said at the beginning, no one is being barred from participating in the temple’s daily activities and programs if they chose to not be vaccinated.
Vaisnava vision is humble, charitable, compassionate, and respectful of others. I believe the pro-mask and pro-vaccination positions taken above reflect these measures. I accept and respect that anti-advocates have a right to not get vaccinated. I ask that they reciprocate by respecting the rights and concerns of others, by wearing masks properly and social distancing.
This message is not an invitation to open an endless debate. I have been asked my opinion and what is the temple ashram policy. I am dutifully presenting those answers here. Let us now all work together, with mutual respect, and move forward with our bhajan and seva to Sri Sri Radha-Giridhari.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Our content does not express the official position of the GBC Body and is solely the opinion of the respective author/s. The GBC Body does not give medical advice and neither does it encourage/discourage vaccinations or any other medical precautions or treatments.