Posted by: Fr Chris | February 22, 2021

Praise of the Redeemer: Monday Matins

Let us welcome Christ with joy and divine gladness. Behold the Fast, the time of repentance let us weep and sigh, and let us raise our hands to our only Redeemer, that He may save our souls.

The Lord is my help and my protection: He saved me. He is my God and I will glorify Him.

Daniel 3: The Image of Gold and Fiery Furnace
The Eternal Word comforts the three youths in the furnace of Babylon

You descended into the midst of the furnace and covered the Youths with dew, and you taught them to sing: all you works of the Lord, bless the Lord and praise Him forever. Mother of God, the Sun of justice comes forth you to illuminate the whole universe.

Theotokos of Vladimir - Wikipedia

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 20, 2021

First Saturday of Great Lent

Jesus Reigns in Glory: the Ascension | St. Paul Center

Jesus, the true God, Who sits in glory upon the divine throne, now appears, riding on a swift cloud: and with His pure hand He saves those who cry out: Glory to Your power, O Lord!

Christ is my strength, my Lord and my God! This is the hymn that the holy church proclaims, and with a purified heart she praises the Lord.

O Word, born of the Father before all time, we the faithful now offer You the intercession of the one who gave you birth; hear her prayer by showing yourself full f goodwill for your servants.

Intercession of the Theotokos Holy Virgin Mary | Християни, Малюнок, Живопис
Intercession of the Virgin Mary

O Redeemer of the world and almighty One, You descended into the furnace and covered the three youths with dew, and You taught them to sing: all you works of the Lord, bless the Lord and praise Him above all forever.

Jesus in the Old Testament | What's Happening...?

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 18, 2021

1st Week: Thursday


O Lord, grant repentance to me, a sinner, for You wish to save Your unworthy servant. I prostrate myself before You, and I implore Your immense goodness; humble my heart in this holy Fast, for in You alone I find refuge and compassion.

Seizing me in the trap of sensual pleasure, the Serpent has made his prisoner, but you, O holy apostles, whose word has caught the whole world in its net, deliver me from the evil one.

Night and day, in my anguish, I cry out to you, and I am saved by escaping my passions; and I am protected by your, O Virgin Mary, my refuge and only defense.

Pin on Blessed Mother Mary

Unique and indivisible and omnipotent Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit. You are my God, my Lord, and my Light; bowing low before You, I sing your praises.

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 17, 2021

Great Lent – Prayers from Matins

I will be posting excerpts from Matins during the season.

DayBreaks for 1/15/18 - It Is Finished..It Is Just Beginning | DayBreaks Devotions

By the Fast, let us crucify our members and our flesh; let us be vigilant in prayer as it is written: let us follow the steps of the divine Crucified One, but putting to death our passions.

Rejecting the bitterness of sin, let us strive to please our God, Who willed to taste gall, and destroyed the enemy by His Cross. By taking up the habit of sin, I am driven toward complete destruction. But You, O Lord, deliver me, by Your Cross, O God of goodness.

Abstinence has flourished on the tree of the Cross, and the universe, embracing it with fervor, shall enjoy the abundant flowering whic hblossoms from the divine precepts of Christ.

Abstaining from the passions, let is crucify our flesh, and our spirit for the Lord: let us mortify our desires and our thoughts, to ilve in the spirit of God. I praise Your crucifixion and Your side, which has been pierced by a lance. From it, I draw immortality O Christ, and each day I am sanctified.

The Science behind Crucifixion - YouTube

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 8, 2020

Immaculate Conception/ Conception of Saint Anne

St. Joachim & St. Anna by Afroditi Petroula | Byzantine ...
SS. Joachim and Anne meet at the Golden Gate to tell each the wonderful news: they will be the parents of the Mother of the Messiah!

Known in the East as the Conception of Saint Anne, December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the West. In the Eastern Churches, this is kept on December 9, in order to emphasize that though sinless, Our Lady is still inferior to Christ, Who alone has a perfect pregnancy (March 25-December 25). However, the Latin Church preferred the date of December 8, giving Our Lady a perfect pregnancy (December 8 – September 8). Because the United States is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, our Byzantine Catholic Church has accepted the December 8th date in America.

The dogma teaches this: the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin. (Pope Pius IX).”

What does this mean? The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us:

Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin at the first moment of her animation, and sanctifying grace was given to her before sin could have taken effect in her soul.

The formal active essence of original sin was not removed from her soul, as it is removed from others by baptism; it was excluded, it never was in her soul.  Simultaneously with the exclusion of sin, the state of original sanctity, innocence, and justice, as opposed to original sin, was conferred upon her, by which gift every stain and fault, all depraved emotions, passions, and debilities, essentially pertaining to original sin, were excluded. But she was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam — from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death. The immunity from original sin was given to Mary by a singular exemption from a universal law through the same merits of Christ, by which other men are cleansed from sin by baptismMary needed the redeeming Savior to obtain this exemption, and to be delivered from the universal necessity and debt (debitum) of being subject to original sin. The person of Mary, in consequence of her origin from Adam, should have been subject to sin, but, being the new Eve who was to be the mother of the new Adam, she was, by the eternal counsel of God and by the merits of Christ, withdrawn from the general law of original sin. Her redemption was the very masterpiece of Christ’s redeeming wisdom.

Antique French Religious Icon Saint Anne and Saint Maria Print
Saint Anne with the Virgin Mary as a child

The formal active essence of original sin was not removed from her soul, as it is removed from others by baptism; it was excluded, it never was in her soul.  Simultaneously with the exclusion of sin, the state of original sanctity, innocence, and justice, as opposed to original sin, was conferred upon her, by which gift every stain and fault, all depraved emotions, passions, and debilities, essentially pertaining to original sin, were excluded. But she was not made exempt from the temporal penalties ofAdam — from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death. The immunity from original sin was given to Mary by a singular exemption from a universal law through the same merits of Christ, by which other men are cleansed from sin by baptismMary needed the redeeming Savior to obtain this exemption, and to be delivered from the universal necessity and debt (debitum) of being subject to original sin. Theperson of Mary, in consequence of her origin from Adam, should have been subject to sin, but, being the new Eve who was to be the mother of the new Adam, she was, by the eternal counsel of God and by the merits of Christ, withdrawn from the general law of original sin. Her redemption was the very masterpiece of Christ’s redeeming wisdom. He is a greater redeemer who pays the debt that it may not be incurred than he who pays after it has fallen on the debtor.

The feast of the Conception of Saint Anne originates in the monasteries of Palestine in the late 600s; it spread through the Syriac and Byzantine Churches so that by 1166 it was a holy day of obligation in the Byzantine Empire with no work allowed. In the texts of this feast, Mary is acclaimed as all-holy, immaculate, sinless, and most pure. Icons of “The Conception of St. Anne” shows SS. Joachim and Anne embracing at the Golden Gate after being told by angels that they would conceive a daughter who would become the mother of the Messiah.

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 27, 2021

2nd Sunday of the Great Fast

Orthodox icon of Saint Gregory Palamas (2) -

Previously, Churches using the Byzantine rite celebrated St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who was ordained bishop by St. John the Evangelist, on the second Sunday of Lent. That commemoration has been replaced by that of St. Gregory Palamas, the famous defender of hesychasm in the 14th century. Replacing such an ancient commemoration as that of Polycarp gives us an idea of just how important the hesychast controversy was.

            The monks of Mount Athos had been condemned by the monk Barlaam, an Italo-Greek monk from Calabria in Italy, who favored education over contemplation, and who emphasized that God is unknowable in this life. The monks taught hesychasm, using the Jesus Prayer and certain body postures or breathing, so as to draw very close to God, and for some, to see the Divine Light in this lifetime. In this, they were following the practices of the Desert Fathers of old. The Jesus Prayer is one of the most ancient in the Church: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. The monks recommended certain breathing techniques, or positions of the body, while reciting the Prayer. This rigid use of the body postures was repeatedly – and rightly – condemned by many saints and writers as people could end making the physical position and breathing more important than the Prayer.

Gregory himself emphasized that such physical practices had to be done only with the guidance of a true spiritual elder. The Jesus Prayer, so central in our spirituality, when used well, has a profound effect so that:

he who is in prayer experiences the fullness of the divine presence, of Life Itself, of Life abundant and unfathomable, then his own life strikes him as a tiny drop in comparison to the boundless ocean. That is what the righteous and long-suffering Job felt as he attained the height of spiritual perfection. He felt himself to be dust and ashes; he felt that he was melting and vanishing as does snow when struck by the sun’s burning rays (Job 42:6) (Orthodox Life, vol. 28, no. 5, 1978).

Further, St. Gregory taught that the mystic, even without education, could have greater knowledge of God than others, but he made the crucial distinction between energies of God, and the essence of God. Essentially, God can not be known in His essence by any human, but His energies (what God sends forth in His creation), can be known. In this, he quoted the ancient Cappadocian Fathers.  these energies are mediated to mankind. That is, how God acts in forgiving and spiritual healing. Grace is the working of God himself, not a created substance of any kind. As for the body postures and breathing, since the person is body and soul, uses of the body can affect the soul. In the end, he wrote that hesychasm teaches that one can see the Light of God, but only with repentance, interior conversion, constant prayer, and spiritual direction.  This invitation to union with God is open to every Christian.

St. Gregory Palamas | Orthodox Quote of the Day | | Orthodox, Church ...
Posted by: Fr Chris | February 24, 2021

The Cross – Wednesday

You freely let yourself be handed over and led to death; before the judgment seat, You were struck with the hands You Yourself were created; on the Cross, You were mocked and pierced with the lance. You endured theses suffering in the flesh, O Lord, to save us.

The End Times Passover: Those Who Dabble in Prophecy Continue to Spit in Jesus' Face!

Seeing You upon the Cross, the hosts of angels in heaven shuddered: the stars lost their brightness; the earth quaked, and the whole universe trembled at the insults You endured, O Lord. By your sufferings You grant us salvation.

By Your wounds we have all been healed from our passions and from the sting of sin; when You were raised upon the Cross, You struck down our invisible Enemy. Grant that we may worthily complete this Fast, and without reproach, come to Your holy Resurrection.

By his wounds you have been healed

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 19, 2021

Friday of the First Week

Image result for icon mary at cross

By repentance, let us put away the leaven of sin: let us gird ourselves by mortifying our passions, let us put on sandals of holiness to avoid every path of sin; let us support ourselves with the staff of faith. Let us not imitate the enemies of the Cross who make gods of their bellies. Let us instead follow the One who is victorious over the Devil, the Savior of our souls!

Dulled by laziness, I have given in to the hypnosis of sin; but You, O Christ, who for my sake have fallen asleep on the ross, awaken me from my slumber that I may escape the darkness of death. Blinded by the passions of the flesh, my soul is overcome with darkness: the treacherous Enemy laughs when he sees me: save from his wickedness, O Christ, and enlighten me forever

Contemplating your death on the Cross, O Christ, your Virgin Mother wept bitterly: O my Son, what is this frightful mystery? You grant eternal life to all, how do You willingly suffer on this Cross both disgrace and death?

This comes from Our Sunday Visitor. I thought I had posted enough, but then I was directed to a priest who wrote that coronavirus is a sign of the Antichrist, and that taking vaccines is taking on the mark of 666. Where such people come from is beyond me. Notice said priest had vaccinations for measles, mumps, flu and everything else! Anyway, if you are getting confronted by anti-vaxxers and self-appointed moral theologians, or people who are genuinely confused and worried, I suggest you share this with them. You can find the original article here:


Dr. Thomas McGovern December 29, 2020


If you are trying to decide whether or not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, what follows may help you decide. Since faith in public health and medical authorities has taken a beating during the past year, I have assembled what I consider trustworthy points to consider.

What does the Church say about Catholics receiving COVID-19 vaccines?

In the Dec. 21 note on the morality of using some anti-COVID-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) made two things clear. First, no one is obligated to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, stating that “it must be voluntary.” Second, those who are vaccinated can do so “in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with abortion.”

In his urbi et orbi message on Christmas Day, Pope Francis referred to the “discovery of vaccines” as a “light of hope” that needs to be “available to all,” “especially the most vulnerable.”

How important is a vaccine to ending the pandemic?

If there was no public health response to the pandemic, it is estimated that about 1.4 million Americans would dieOver 340,000 Americans have died of COVID, and only about 6% of the U.S. population has tested positive. That means that after almost 10 months, we are only 7-10% of the way to a herd immunity threshold of 80-85%.

There are a growing number of deaths above historical averages due not only to COVID-19, but also to unintended consequences of reduced access to medical care in the spring, business closures and the response to the loneliness and isolation of sheltering-in-place.

The rationale for those drastic government measures — and incursions on our freedoms — was to protect people until successful vaccines or medical treatments were in place. While medical treatments (such as monoclonal antibody infusions) are only starting to be available, we now have what appear to be two successful vaccines in the United States capable of ending the pandemic’s effects on normal societal interaction.

Vaccines are the fastest way to end the pandemic and the governmental limits on our activities. In a recent interview I gave after receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, I commented that the release of that vaccine meant the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

How helpful are vaccines?

Vaccines are victims of their own success. Most of us did not grow up with neighbors and family members disfigured or dying from smallpox, attacked and crippled by polio, or pregnant mothers losing babies because of rubella. Now, vaccines are poised to end the greatest worldwide health crisis of our lifetime.

Do the approved vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) prevent COVID-19 infections?

Yes. The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines reduce symptomatic infections by 95% and 94%, respectively. The modern influenza vaccine reduces infections by only 40-60%.

Do the approved vaccines prevent transmission of COVID-19 from those with an asymptomatic infection?

Yes. While Pfizer is studying that now, Moderna has released early results of an ongoing study showing that four weeks after one dose of vaccine there is a 63% reduction in asymptomatic cases and an 80% reduction in symptomatic cases. The results after a second dose will almost certainly be better.

Do the approved vaccines prevent severe cases of COVID-19?

Yes. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines demonstrate a reduction in severe COVID-19 cases. Ongoing studies by both companies will determine effectiveness in reducing hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.

How do vaccine side effects compare to other vaccines given to adults?

Earlier in the year of COVID, I received two doses of (ethically-produced) Shingrix vaccine to prevent herpes zoster (shingle). Each dose gave me sweats, chills and fatigue for 24 hours. More than 17 million 50- to 60-year-olds have received this vaccine to prevent a skin disease that has a small potential for years of unremitting, localized pain and rarely leads to death in people with severely weakened immune systems. Having seen patients with this unremitting pain, I considered the side effects worth enduring.

The side effects for the second, more reactive dose of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (70%/90% injection site pain, 37%/61% muscle aches, 60%/68% fatigue, 35%/48% chills and 16%/17% fever, respectively) are less than those reported for Shingrix, but somewhat more than those for the U.S. flu vaccine, where about 50% complain of injection site pain, 25% have muscle aches and 11% develop fatigue.

What about delayed onset side effects of the vaccines?

No new vaccine side effects have been found to occur in a recipient of any vaccine more than six weeks after reception, and only exceedingly rare ones occur more than a few weeks after vaccination.

How do the approved vaccines alter my genetic code?

They don’t. The mRNA from the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna do not enter the nucleus of our cells where our genetic code (DNA) is stored. After using our cells’ machinery to make spike protein, the mRNA is rapidly broken down.

Do the vaccines contain cells from aborted babies?

No. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain no cells and are not made in cells of any kind.

How were the cells of aborted babies involved in the development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

Both of the mRNA vaccines relied on the genetic sequence for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that was determined by another company that used HEK-293 (human embryonic kidney) cells (from a baby that either was aborted or miscarried in the 1970s). Also, some tests to prove that each vaccine stimulates cells to produce spike protein and express it on their surfaces were done in HEK-293 cells.

Do the vaccines cause infertility?

Some are concerned that COVID vaccines may increase infertility or cause miscarriages because of a similarity between the spike protein targeted by the vaccines and a protein called syncitin-1 that is necessary for normal development of the placenta. Some suggest that antibodies against spike might attack syncitin-1 and prevent placentas from forming normally.

The small portion of the similar protein sequence in syncitin-1 is buried beneath the surface of the protein, so anti-spike antibodies would not have access to bind to it. Animal studies looking for harm in developing fetuses have found none according to reports from Pfizer and Moderna.

Finally, mothers infected with COVID-19 also develop antibodies to spike protein and would have a similar risk of attacking syncitin-1 as those vaccinated. In a U.S. study of 598 pregnant women hospitalized with COVID-19, only 2.2% miscarried, compared to an expected rate of 10%. Therefore, this initial study does not suggest that an immune response to COVID-19 leads to increased miscarriage (one possible sign of faulty placental development).

What has the Church said about previous vaccines that relied on use of cells from aborted babies?

Other vaccines routinely received by American children have a similar or deeper connection to the use of cells of aborted babies. The only rubella, chicken pox and hepatitis A vaccines available in the United States today are produced using cell lines derived from babies aborted in the 1960s. Catholic concerns about reception of such vaccines led to this 2005 statement by the Pontifical Academy for Life allowing for the reception of such vaccines with certain responsibilities placed on those receiving them.

What are the responsibilities of those who decide to receive an ethically tainted vaccine?

Recipients of such vaccines are called to “oppose by all means (in writing, through the various associations, mass media, etc.) the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared.”

What are some principles the Church recommends using when making prudential decisions like whether or not to receive a vaccine?

Respect for human dignity, the common good and solidarity.

How does respect for human dignity affect the decision to be vaccinated?

Using cells derived from aborted babies to carry out research or manufacture any product is an affront to human dignity. Receiving the mRNA vaccines is a form of appropriation, deriving good from some past evil act. Cooperation with evil means that one’s action contributes to continuing that act. A successful vaccine involving no appropriation from — or cooperation with — research and development with aborted cells is the goal.

At least six of the eight Operation Warp Speed vaccines used descendants of aborted fetal cells to perform tests (current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) or to produce the vaccine itself (current Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine not available in the U.S.).

The two vaccines with no apparent relationship with aborted fetal cells (produced by Sanofi-GSK and Merck IAVI) are both estimated to be available in late 2021.

While we are right to object to the use of aborted fetal cells in producing vaccines and should work for ethical alternatives, we should also realize — and work for a consistent ethic toward life — in other areas where our actions may contribute to abortion. While living in this valley of tears, our actions are tied into appropriating from — or contributing to — abortion when we do things that seem harmless like eating bananas, drinking coffee or buying goods made in China or by any company that contributes to Planned Parenthood.

What is the “common good,” and how does it affect a decision to receive a vaccine?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (No. 1906). Overseeing the common good is the primary “reason that the political authority exists” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CDSC), No. 168). The Dec. 21 CDF document on COVID vaccines states, “In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good.”

What is solidarity?

Solidarity is the “firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good … because we are all really responsible for all” (CDSC, No. 193). Solidarity is the way in which my individual acts can contribute to the common good.

How might concerns about the common good and solidarity lead to a decision to receive a vaccine?

People of goodwill want to reduce the risk of unwittingly infecting individuals at high risk for dying from COVID. Receiving a vaccine will not only protect me but also protect others with whom I share time and space. Mass vaccination is likely the fastest way to end pandemic-related limitations on human activity and reduce morbidity and mortality.

How might a desire to respect human dignity and live in solidarity lead to a decision not to receive a vaccine?

The human dignity of aborted babies must be defended in our culture. Some believe that because of the worldwide focus on vaccines, this is our best opportunity as a group to stand up and demand ethical alternatives to all vaccines. It has recently been suggested that those at very low risk of dying from COVID may elect to forego any vaccine that benefited from the use of aborted fetal cells in any way. In addition to forgoing reception, they are strongly encouraged to join a movement calling for ethical production of vaccines.

What are the responsibilities of those who decide not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic?

If some people choose for reasons of conscience not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the CDF writes that they “must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.” The responsibility for solidarity with “those who are most vulnerable” remains whether by receiving a vaccine, or by practicing assiduously non-pharmaceutical interventions such as masking, distancing and limiting indoor gatherings.

What final thoughts might I consider?

I have discovered that asking myself the question, “What is the most loving response I can make in this situation?” helps me to clarify my actions.

Since I daily remove skin cancers from the faces of patients over 80 years of age (who have an COVID-19 infection fatality rate of 8-10%), thereby breathing within 12-18 inches of their unmasked faces (because that’s where their cancers are), I want to protect them as much as possible in case I contract COVID-19 and don’t realize it.

You may decide that the most loving thing you can do now is to forego a vaccine — when it is available to you — and make a principled and vocal stand for the ethical production of vaccines in solidarity with those humans who have been aborted.

Whatever decisions we make, doing so in solidarity out of a motive a charity will help clarify the decision-making process.

Thomas W. McGovern, MD, practices Mohs surgery and facial reconstruction in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He worked for two years at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease before his dermatology training and serves on the national board of the Catholic Medical Association.

Posted by: Fr Chris | December 22, 2020

Christmas Poem

By a Carmelite Nun

What was the Purpose and Significance of the Mandate System? - Historyplex

Holiest moment on darkest night,

Mary and Joseph suffused in pure light

tenderly kneel on the stable’s dirt floor

Bending down Child to adore.

Nestled in hay, the Baby Boy sights,

the parents sing a lullaby

three hearts are beating, pulsating as one,

a symphony most holy – truly begun!

Redemption’s sweet grace does silently run!

God’s love divine spills forth on mankind!

Silver bells ringing, the church opens wide – do not be late, go right inside!

You do need a key – a bright shining faith and deep humility! The heart of Jesus beats with greatest love.

Christ in the Host – He thinks, hears and sees! Give Him the gift He desires and seeks.

Your own poor heart, united to His!

Call To Worship Christmas Eve 2020 | Christmas Lights 2020

A little-known deal protects drug companies in the U.S. from being sued—and feeds conspiracy theories in the process.JAMES HAMBLINMAY 14, 2019

“Vaccines are safe,” says Narayan Nair. “That’s the message we need to get out there.”

Nair is a physician. He is also the head of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program—the system through which the U.S. government has, over the past three decades, paid more than $4 billion to people who claim to have been harmed by vaccines.

For most drugs—actually, every type of drug other than vaccines—the manufacturer can be legally liable for harm that results from a product it sells. Vaccines are produced by privately held pharmaceutical companies, but they have a unique arrangement with the U.S. government: When a person reports harm that could feasibly be related to a vaccine, a government program—not a pharmaceutical company—pays compensation.

According to its public record, from 2013 to 2017 alone, the program paid out an average of $229 million a year to patients and their families. The average payment was about $430,000.

As America enters the worst measles outbreaksince the disease was declared eradicated two decades ago, it is worth examining this rarely talked about element of vaccination requirements. The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has long percolated at the heart of misinformation and misunderstanding. It also raises questions about where large sums of tax money are flowing.


The fact that the government pays hundreds of millions of dollars every year to people who claim they’ve been injured by vaccines could be an alarming thing to see in your Facebook News Feed, especially if you’re a parent whose pediatrician assured you that vaccination is nothing to worry about. In one case, a viral article called “Flu Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous Vaccine in the U.S. Based on Settled Cases for Injuries” points to these payments as evidence of vaccines’ danger. The post was published on a site called Health Impact News: News That Impacts Your Health That Other Media Sources May Try to Censor! and appears to have 210,000 likes on Facebook.

The head of the center, Barbara Loe Fisher, has appeared on Jones’s show several times. One time she made the case that vaccination had become a political tool to gain access to Americans’ DNA for nefarious purposes. “So they’re using the vaccine-monitoring system as the skeletal system for a total takeover of health care,” Jones surmised, blaming Barack Obama. “Then they’re using bioethicists to bring back eugenics and take over health care.”

The road from a quick question about the flu vaccine to certainty about state-sponsored genocide has never been shorter.

Subsequent Googling may only make things worse. Search for Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, and one of the first results is a site that appears to be an impartial source of information: the National Vaccine Information Center. But it is a private organization unrelated to the program, and it is a favorite of the noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who described it as “the best-informed group trying to expose the dangers of vaccines.”

The “vaccine-hesitant” community is a unique ideological mix of anti-corporate liberalism and anti-government individualism. Over the years, the VICP has been criticized for paying too much and for paying too little.

The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program’s first payment was made in 1988, but its current operations can only be understood through the lens of decades prior. In the spring of 1970, after she had received a dose of oral polio vaccine, eight-month-old Anita Reyes stopped moving her legs. Paralysis spread upward to her waist, resulting in permanent incontinence, in the classic pattern of polio.

Her father filed suit against the maker of the vaccine, Wyeth Laboratories. Its polio vaccine at the time involved a live virus that was capable, in extremely rare cases, of causing the disease itself. A jury awarded the Reyes family $200,000 on the grounds that even though the risk of developing polio from the vaccine was known, the family had not been properly warned. Because the disease had, until the previous decade, paralyzed thousands of American children every year—it peaked in the United States in 1952 with some 21,000 paralytic cases—the known risk of the vaccine was heavily outweighed by the risk of going unvaccinated.

But as diseases like polio began to fade from memory, the American public began to worry instead about the specter of vaccine-related illness. Other lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers began to make news in the 1970s and 1980s. Vaccines for the disease pertussis were particularly targeted, having been tied to cases of encephalopathy. One lawsuit in 1978 increased to 73 by 1984. The average claim increased from $10 million to $47 million.

In several instances, damages were awarded “despite the absence of scientific evidence,” says Cody Meissner, the chair of pediatric infectious disease at Tufts University School of Medicine. As we spoke, his pager went off six times. “It’s impossible to prove a negative,” he emphasized to me, meaning that when an illness occurs shortly after a child receives a vaccine, it’s very easy to suggest a causal link, and not technically possible to prove that the vaccine was not the cause.

Because many cases against vaccines involve claims of permanent injury to children, they not only are difficult to argue, but can be expensive. With this in mind, the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines began to shift their calculus. The drug-development process is costly and time-consuming, and not likely to be embarked upon without a high-likelihood payoff for a drug company’s shareholders. Developing a novel vaccine that could prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of a deadly disease—but cause a much smaller number of side effects that could lead to multimillion-dollar lawsuits—made a useful product an unappealing business proposition. During the 1970s and ’80s, some manufacturers began to withdraw from vaccine production.

In the midst of this, public-health officials grew concerned about the stability of the country’s continued supply of existing vaccines—and the dwindling business incentive for companies to invest in developing new ones. It was on these grounds that Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (also known as the Vaccine Act), indemnifying drug companies from further lawsuits.

From then on, instead of suing drug companies, people who alleged injury or illness related to a vaccine would file claims with a new entity known as the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. When a person brings a case of reported harm, members of a team that currently includes Nair and 10 other doctors from the Department of Health and Human Services (all of whom have vaccinated their kids, Nair emphasized to me) review the person’s medical records. The team then recommends whether the case should be compensated or defended in “vaccine court,” the term for the federal claims court dedicated to hearing cases of vaccine injury.

Which brings us to the $4.1 billion.

“The creation of the VICP was a quid pro quo,” the Stanford Law School professor Nora Freeman Engstrom told me over email. People who may have been injured by vaccines would give up some ability to seek redress through the court system. In return, they would be assured swift and certain compensation. The program was charged by Congress to address claims “quickly, easily, and with certainty and generosity.”

If the government restricts individual rights for the collective good, the reasoning went, then that government should assume responsibility for the consequences. As one law review put it, the purpose was “to compensate children who had been injured while serving the public good.”

In a 2015 analysis of the program, Engstrom found that this was not the case. Only about a quarter of claims were being compensated, and often not in a timely manner. She cited the fact that the average vaccine-injury claim took longer to adjudicate than the average case alleging medical malpractice. “The VICP,” Engstrom wrote, “has simply failed to offer compensation as consistently, as quickly, as easily, or as simply as its proponents had predicted.”

Since Engstrom’s analysis was published, though, there has been a dramatic change. For most of the program’s history, the program denied a large majority of claims. But between 2015 and 2019, 77 percent of claims were compensated. In 2004, the VICP compensated just 57 cases. In 2017, it paid 706. Engstrom called the trend “a big shift.”

While this change brings the VICP closer to its initial mission, the sheer amount of money changing hands may also amplify public perception of the risk of vaccines. From a low of $54 million in 2006, total outlays steadily increased to $282 million in 2017, and are on pace to exceed that this year.

This time period has also seen rising public skepticism of the pharmaceutical industry and online conspiracies propagating more readily than ever. In January of this year, Nair and Meissner, along with the inventor of the rubella vaccine, Stanley Plotkin, addressed

the growing concern that all of this money was exaggerating parents’ sense of risk. They wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “Although the establishment of the VICP may support some arguments of those who question the safety of vaccines, its existence promotes wide acceptance of vaccination as a public good that is also humane to those who perceive they have been injured by this public good.”

Perception of harm is a concept that has proved trickier than the law may have predicted. The Reyes case could seem about as straightforward as possible: A child developed polio after being given an oral dose of a live polio virus. But even a case as apparently obvious as that is difficult to irrefutably prove—unless the patient had been monitored in a sealed isolation chamber to guarantee there had been no other exposure to polio virus.

In an attempt to standardize and expedite the compensation process, many of the decisions are based on a document known as the Vaccine Injury Table (the existence of which is stipulated in the 1986 law). It details myriad illnesses, disabilities, and injuries that are, as Nair put it, “presumed to be caused by a vaccine if no other cause is found.”

The key legal stipulation is that if the petitioner has experienced one of the injuries or illnesses in the table in a period after receiving a vaccination, she receives a presumption of causation. Unlike a criminal case, where a defendant is presumed innocent, the vaccine cases are to supposed to presume that vaccination was the cause—unless that can be disproved. So, as the VICP’s site states, “being awarded compensation for a petition does not necessarily mean the vaccine caused the alleged injury.”

As such, it estimates that approximately 70 percent of its payments are the result of a negotiated settlement “in which HHS has not concluded, based upon review of the evidence, that the alleged vaccine caused the alleged injury.”

With that in mind, the Vaccine Injury Table is long and regularly expanding—which could partially explain the steady increase in payouts. New additions include, for example, shoulder injuries and syncope (losing consciousness), both of which can have many causes. Another recent, better-documented addition (also described on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website) is that an influenza vaccine can, in extremely rare cases, stimulate the immune system to attack the nervous system in a pattern known as Guillain-Barré syndrome, leading to weakness or even paralysis.

Autism is notably not included in the table. In the early 2000s, the program started to receive a flood of claims about the disease. They were traced to a global conversation started the decade prior after a study of 12 people was retracted by The Lancet and widely condemned by the medical community. The reported relationship became the subject of numerous scientific investigations, none of which found any relationship. No question in the history of vaccine reactions has been so thoroughly litigated. Given the amount of available evidence, autism is one of the claims that Nair and colleagues can confidently deny, he told me. The legal precedent dates to 2010, after more than 5,000 cases had been filed claiming a link between vaccines and autism. The result was a legal review known as the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, which ultimately found no causal relationship between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder.

Officially, the table is updated by the secretary of health and human services. But these updates are based on new research, reports of adverse events, and an advisory committee that meets four times a year (Meissner is the incoming chair). In the interest of transparency and sidestepping allegations of conspiracy, the meetings are open to the public. Anyone can join, by phone or in person, and argue that something should or should not be included in the injury table. The minutes for every meeting are online. The next one will take place on June 6 and 7. The advisory committee makes a point of including among its members parents who have received payments from the fund. Meissner is insistent that he wants to hear from everyone in the process.

To that end, petitioners’ legal fees are covered by the VICP, which paid $25 million in 2017 in fees alone. Accordingly, there are attorneys and law firms that specialize in vaccine-injury claims. Some of them advertise on daytime TV. Though the sheer numbers and odds of payment could suggest some degree of financial incentive to bring claims, Meissner prefers this to a system in which bringing a claim is difficult and expensive. It would be unfair to families with insufficient means to hire a lawyer, he said.

In the same spirit of consumer advocacy, the law also requires health-care professionals to report adverse events that happen after immunization, through what’s known as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. This level of attention to side effects is unprecedented among pharmaceutical products. Though this sort of federal tracking serves as fodder for conspiracy rants by the likes of Alex Jones, the same data could reassure parents that there’s little to fear. According to the CDC, some 300 million doses of vaccines are distributed in the United States in an average year. The program reports an average of about 500 petitions, of which it compensates about two-thirds. That’s about one compensation for every 1 million vaccine doses. Working from the estimate that 70 percent of the awards are not clearly attributable to vaccines, the payments estimate a rate of injury or illness caused by vaccination at about one in 4.5 million.

“I don’t think any doctor would say, ‘Vaccines are safe,’” Meissner told me, in stark contrast to Nair’s approach. But many doctors do, depending on what level of specificity and information a patient is looking for. Some physicians want to talk about the likelihood of every possible risk and make a deeply researched, analytic decision. Others tend to dwell on worst-case scenarios and just want to top-line advice, simply put: Vaccines save lives; vaccines are safe; get vaccinated. The problem for doctors and public-health officials is not knowing exactly who’s on the receiving end of any such message.

A person might say “drinking water is safe” without meaning to downplay the cases of waterborne gastroenteritis. Vaccines are, as all things in life, not without risk. In the mid-20th century, when vaccines were rapidly adopted as common practice, incurring a small personal risk for the greater collective good may have been a more obvious tenet of life in a modern society. This was at least part of the idea behind a government program aimed at taking care of the injured and ill. While we watch as measles returns, it may have less to do with ignorance than the basic fact that this communal social fabric has been displaced by distrust, isolation, and fear.

JAMES HAMBLIN, M.D., is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is also a lecturer at Yale School of Public Health, co-host of Social Distance, and author of Clean: The New Science of Skin.

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