Are Jains Medically Allowed Vaccination?

We say it over and over: The core tenet of Jainism is pacifism. The belief system is all about living in harmony with every living being on the planet and doing as little harm to other life as possible, from the smallest microorganism to the biggest. And Jain “law” has plenty to say on modern healthcare, most of which is perfectly okay. On occasion, a Jain follower might have to rely on his or her own judgement, or ask for advice from a Jain leader. 

But what do these beliefs say about vaccinating — especially against coronavirus, which has already led to the deaths of over two million people (and counting). One might be justified in thinking that because vaccinating against a deadly disease helps prevent the deaths of other people. But others might also be justified in thinking that a “virus” could also constitute life in one form or another, and that immunizing against such a form of life could lead to its destruction.

Which is right, and which is wrong?

First things first: The vast majority of scientists and biologists do not classify viruses as living entities. That means that the belief that vaccination could lead to the eradication of a particular virus probably doesn’t make a difference in Jainism. You can’t hurt them or live in harmony with them if they aren’t even alive!

However, not everyone agrees with the sentiment that viruses are not alive. They put themselves together from organic matter, which Jains try to spare. Jains still allow certain forms of cooking, soap, and antibiotics even though these activities kill millions of microorganisms. They are allowed because at the end of the day, human survival is important too.

That’s why Jains don’t ban vaccination even though they follow a path of lifelong non-violence. Those Jains who feel like the choice to vaccinate is a difficult one should seek council from their religious leaders.