Last month the United States Catholic bishops released a statement announcing that Catholics can ethically receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines again COVID-19. And on January 9, Pope Francis announced in an interview that he will receive the vaccine, and urged others to do the same.
“I believe that, ethically speaking, everyone should get the vaccine,” Pope Francis said. “It’s an ethical option, because your health, your life is at stake, but you also play with the lives of others.”
The message from the Catholic Church has been crystal clear: it is ethical for Catholics to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Nevertheless, some on social media continue to assert that receiving any of the available coronavirus vaccines makes one complicit in the sin of abortion. The reason: all of the vaccines have at least some remote connection — even if extremely remote — to a cell line known as HEK293, which was taken from a child aborted in the Netherlands in 1972.
For those who are concerned for the sanctity of human life and question whether it is ethical to receive a morally compromised vaccine, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and the Committe on Pro-Life Activities has released a statement which should provide some guidance.
The entire document, “Moral Considerations Regarding the New COVID-19 Vaccines,” is available at the USCCB website.
The key points of the document are summarized here:
1. Getting the vaccine is an act of charity to others.
The purpose of the vaccine is not just to protect the person who is getting vaccinated. “The more important effect may be the protection it offers to those who are much more likely to be seriously stricken by the disease if they were to contract it through exposure to those infected,” write the bishops.
2. While it is good to avoid cooperation with evil, we also have an obligation to protect others from a serious health threat.
“Our love of neighbor should lead us to avoid giving scandal, but we cannot omit fulfilling serious obligations such as the prevention of deadly infection and the spread of contagion among those who are vulnerable just to avoid the appearance of scandal,” write the bishops.
3. For serious health risks the Vatican has sanctioned the use of vaccines developed with the help of aborted cell lines.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has affirmed that a serious health danger could justify use of “a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.”
The bishops note that it is ethical to receive the vaccine for Rubella (German measles) even though it was developed with the help of aborted fetal cells. The seriousness of the disease and the fact that there is no other vaccine available justify its use.
4. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are justified because there is no alternative vaccine that has absolutely no connection to abortion.
5. The serious risk to public health from COVID-19 warrants the use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, even though they have a very remote connection to the aborted cells line.
The bishops note that while no morally compromised cell lines were involved in “the design, development, or production of the vaccine,” a confirmatory test using the HEK293 cell line was performed on both vaccines. They make clear in this guidance that the vaccines at no point involved cells taken directly from the body of an aborted child, and that no further abortions are necessary to produce the vaccines.
6. While the AstraZeneca vaccine is more morally compromised, it would be permissible for Catholics to receive it if they had no other choice.
While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have a “very remote” connection to the aborted fetal cell line, the bishops write that the AstraZeneca vaccine is more morally compromised. The fetal cell line was used in the design, development, production, and testing of the vaccine.
The bishops note that the connection is similar to that of the Rubella vaccine which was also designed and produced using the aborted fetal cell line. In spite of this illicit connection, the bishops write, receiving the AstaZeneca vaccine would be permissible if one did not have any other choice of a vaccine, “at least, not without a lengthy delay in immunization that may have serious consequences for one’s health and the health of others.”
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