An international association of Catholic doctors has published a report explaining that the mRNA vaccine is safe to receive and poses no ethical problems for Catholics.
The European Union today authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination, and will begin administering it later this week. Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK and the US have already been vaccinated with the drug after those countries granted emergency use authorization earlier this month.
Facts to combat fear
For some, questions remain regarding the safety of the vaccine, and whether receiving it would be compatible with Catholic teaching. The International Federation of Associations of Catholic Doctors has published a helpful analysis of the vaccine, that should help resolve any unanswered questions.
The brief review, compiled by Rok Čivljak, President of Croatian Catholic Medical Society, provides a science-based, but Catholic-grounded analysis of the facts about the new vaccine.
Safe, effective and ethical according to Catholic doctors
In his conclusion, he writes that the vaccine would provide 95% protection against COVID-19, with only a small risk of short-term adverse reactions. Furthermore, he asserts, the vaccine is unlikely to cause long-term effects, and presents “no ethical barriers preventing Catholics from being vaccinated.”
Here we summarize Čivljak’s review of some of the questions raised about the Pfizer vaccine, and the Catholic medical community’s response.
1. Will the mRNA in the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination become incorporated into the human genome?
The messenger RNA (mRNA) does not, in fact, enter the DNA, so there is no danger that it will alter the human genome. The way the process works is the mRNA is translated into protein, in this instance the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Two amino acids in this protein are further modified in a process that produces high levels of neutralizing antibodies.
2. Are there any long-term consequences of the mRNA vaccines?
Since mRNA disintegrates very quickly — from several hours to several days— it is unlikely that there will be any long-term effects of the vaccine. For now, it appears that possible short-term side effects may include the same sort of undesirable effects that come with most other vaccines. These include swelling and pain at the injection site) and general (fever, chills, headache and myalgia).
3. Will the vaccine trigger autoimmune diseases?
Since the vaccine does not have an adjuvant (an agent that enhances immune reaction), it will not trigger autoimmune diseases. In clinical trials involving over 50,000 participants who received the Pfizer vaccine, there were no adverse autoimmune effects during the active follow-up period of at least four months.
4. Is the vaccine ethically manufactured and tested?
Embryonic cells from aborted children are neither used in the production nor testing of the mRNA vaccine, and they contain no components of human origin. The vaccine is a product of molecular engineering, water, K+ and Na+ salts and a lipid consisting of ALC-0315 and ALC-0159 plus cholesterol and another lipid molecule.
The mRNA vaccines are different than adenovirus vector vaccines, such as the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca (AZD1222, known as the Oxford vaccine). That vaccine was produced using embryonic cells from a baby aborted in the Netherlands in the 1970s. The ethical implications of receiving this sort of vaccine have been the subject of some debate. This week, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a statement on the ethics of vaccines.
5. Were there any adverse reactions that were not recorded during the Phase 3 clinical trials?
At the beginning of the vaccination campaign in England (Pfizer vaccine), several of those vaccinated developed allergic reactions. It was discovered that they had previously suffered from severe allergies. These allergic reactions were reversed medically. Therefore, it was immediately stipulated that those known to be allergic to food, vaccines or medications should discuss vaccination with their healthcare provider and, if vaccinated, do so under medical supervision.