Since many people have been asking questions regarding the COVID vaccines, I thought it would be prudent to publish the Church’s response in this column. (We’ve had links to the document appear in the bulletin before, but I want to print some excerpts so that the greatest possible number of people can read what the Church has to say.) The document I reference was published by the USCCB (and co-authored by our own Bishop Rhoades in his role as the USCCB Chairman for the Committee on Doctrine) to give moral guidance to Catholics about receiving the COVID vaccines and the relationship of these vaccines to cell lines derived from aborted fetuses. Please see these excerpts below, which should address many questions or concerns you may have:
The Holy See… has offered guidance on the question of whether it is morally acceptable to receive a vaccine that has been created with the use of morally compromised cell lines. Both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Academy for Life emphasize the positive moral obligation to do good and in so doing to distance oneself as much as possible from the immoral act of another party such as abortion in order to avoid cooperation with someone else’s evil actions and to avoid giving scandal…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.
The Holy See points out that there are different degrees of responsibility in cooperating with the evil actions of others. With regard to people involved in the development and production of vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explains that “in organizations where cell lines of illicit origin are being utilized, the responsibility of those who make the decision to use them is not the same as that of those who have no voice in such a decision.” As for the moral responsibility of those who are merely the recipients of the vaccines, the Congregation affirms 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.”
[A]t least at present, there is no available alternative vaccine that has absolutely no connection to abortion. Second, the risk to public health is very serious, as evidenced by the millions of infections worldwide and hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States of America alone. Third, in many cases the most important effect of vaccination may not be the protection it offers to the person who receives the vaccination, who may be of relatively robust health and unlikely to be seriously affected by the disease. Rather, 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.
Neither Pfizer nor Moderna used morally compromised cell lines in the design, development, or production of the vaccine. A confirmatory test, however, employing the commonly used, but morally compromised HEK293 cell line was performed on both vaccines. Thus, while neither vaccine is completely free from any connection to morally compromised cell lines, in this case the connection is very remote from the initial evil of the abortion.
In view of the gravity of the current pandemic and the lack of availability of alternative vaccines, the reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are sufficiently serious to justify their use, despite their remote connection to morally compromised cell lines. In addition, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community. In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is more morally compromised. … The AstraZeneca vaccine should be avoided if there are alternatives available. It may turn out, however, that one does not really have a choice of vaccine, at least, not without a lengthy delay in immunization that may have serious consequences for one’s health and the health of others. In such a case…it would be permissible to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine.
While having ourselves and our families immunized against COVID-19 with the new vaccines is morally permissible and can be an act of self-love and of charity toward others, we must not allow the gravely immoral nature of abortion to be obscured…With this in mind, we should be on guard so that the new COVID-19 vaccines do not desensitize us or weaken our determination to oppose the evil of abortion itself and the subsequent use of fetal cells in research.
I hope this is helpful to each of you as the vaccine rollout continues, and I hope you share this information with friends and family who may have similar questions or concerns. Finally, I encourage you to read the entire document (which is not especially long) so that you can have a more complete picture of the Church’s response to the available COVID vaccines: https://www.usccb.org/moral-considerations-covid-vaccines