LDS Church makes a push for all its missionaries to get a COVID-19 vaccine

The Utah-based faith is encouraging, but not requiring, its global proselytizing force to be immunized.

(Rick Egan | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Latter-day Saint missionaries wear masks in downtown Salt Lake City, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is encouraging its missionaries to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

As it did with its missionaries in Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is encouraging — but not requiring — its full-time proselytizers across the globe to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to “safeguard themselves and others.”

The latest appeal came Friday in a message from the faith’s Missionary Department.

“Under the direction of their mission leaders,” a news release stated, “mission medical coordinators are monitoring the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in their mission and informing missionaries when they may receive it.”

The release reaffirmed the faith’s policy that “individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination.”

However, missionaries and prospective proselytizers who choose not receive required immunizations, including the COVID-19 vaccine, will be assigned to a mission in their home country.

Young missionaries in the U.S. who will travel outside the country on or after Aug. 1 should be vaccinated before traveling, the release added. Senior missionaries — usually retired couples — may go to their assigned missions after they have been vaccinated.

Friday’s announcement is similar to what church spokesman Sam Penrod said in March when asked if the Salt Lake City-based faith would make it mandatory for all its proselytizers in Utah to get the shots — after the state opened up vaccination appointments to those over 16. (Young Latter-day Saint men and women become eligible for full-time missions at ages 18 and 19, respectively.)

Penrod pointed to the governing First Presidency’s statement from January, when church President Russell M. Nelson, his two counselors and several other Latter-day Saint apostles over age 75 got their first dose.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Church President Russell M. Nelson receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. The church is encouraging is missionaries to be vaccinated as well.

“As appropriate opportunities become available, the church urges its members, employees and missionaries to be good global citizens,” that statement said, “and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization.”

Like Friday’s message, it noted that individuals must make their own decisions about vaccination.

The faith’s General Handbook, spelling out guidelines for members and leaders, encourages Latter-day Saints to “safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.”

On March 2, apostle Gary E. Stevenson told a Brigham Young University audience that missionaries “diligently follow local COVID guidelines in the areas they serve.”

In some instances, “they teach outside, socially distanced,” Stevenson said. “In other places where greater restrictions are in place, missionary teaching originates from missionary apartments, done virtually.”

Latter-day Saint Charities, the faith’s humanitarian arm, donated $20 million to UNICEF this year for a worldwide COVID-19 vaccination push.