“There is no ethical concern for a Catholic” who wants to be vaccinated, Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, told I.MEDIA. The Frenchwoman invites those who are reluctant to get the coronavirus vaccine to “open their eyes” and to trust the specialists, theologians or experts, who have contributed to the Pope’s reflection.
How do you feel about the Pope’s encouragement to promote the vaccine?
Becquart: I welcome it 300%, I fully agree with this position: the vaccine is not only for oneself but it is an ethical responsibility towards others. Moreover, with hindsight, we can see the positive effects. The challenge is to vaccinate as many people as possible to put an end to the pandemic. As soon as I arrived in the Vatican, I immediately asked for information. I was very lucky because the Vatican offers all its employees the possibility to be vaccinated and I did it as soon as possible. I think it is very important that Pope Francis is spreading this message. It is in line with the message of many other leaders, but without doubt the Vatican is the state that has done the most for vaccination.
On May 8, the Pope called for a “temporary suspension of intellectual property rights” on vaccines. What is your view on the lifting of patents?
Becquart: I am not a specialist in these matters. However, what seems very important to me – and this is also at the heart of the Pope’s message – is that vaccines must be offered to everyone, not just to those countries that can afford them. There is a strong message from the Vatican that vaccines should be accessible, and in this sense, it seems to me that the lifting of patents is an important step, even if this should not be seen as something miraculous. The idea is to make the vaccine a common good for humanity. This pandemic has really highlighted the need for interdependence: No one will make it alone. It is not enough for a country to do a good job carrying out its vaccinations for everything to go well, even if it tries to close its borders. We really have to show solidarity and work to ensure that everyone has access to the vaccine, not just the privileged. In this sense, I thought it was good that the Vatican vaccinated people living on the streets, in collaboration with associations, and not just its employees.
What can you say to the faithful who are afraid to be vaccinated, especially for ethical reasons? Some people question vaccines with links to aborted fetuses.
Becquart: I would tell them to trust those who have worked closely on these issues. The Vatican has spoken out, notably through the Pontifical Academy for Life. The message is very clear: There is no ethical concern for a Catholic. You have to open your eyes because ethical reflection is always complex, and in a way, it is much less ethical to put others in danger by not being vaccinated than to make the choice to be vaccinated. The specialists in moral theology, medical ethics and these sorts of issues, have worked together and the message is clear. To Christians, I would say: trust the message given by the Vatican, by the bishops. You cannot just sit in your corner and make your own little reflection. You have to think with others and rely on the insights that are given.
What can you say to those who are afraid of side effects?
Becquart: There can be side effects but most of them are not so serious. When you look at the statistics, they are minimal, the issue is that they are much publicized. We need to think about risk assessment. We take more risk for ourselves if we are not vaccinated than if we are vaccinated. You have to realize that if you are not vaccinated, you take the risk of catching the coronavirus and of having it severely, and above all, you also take the risk of contaminating others who are more vulnerable. If we are objective and take a step back from these fears – which are legitimate but must be rationalized – we can see that the risks are limited.
How did Pope Francis manage to give such a clear response on vaccines?
Becquart: All this work was done with the Vatican’s Covid Commission, through the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development. This dicastery really works with experts and they contribute to the Pope’s reflection. They rely on scientific approaches and at the same time on a reflection of Christian ethics. That is why we must invite people to trust them.
Interview by Claire Guigou