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U.S. bishops approve use of coronavirus vaccines

Coronavirus vaccine, stock image. Credit: M-Foto/Shutterstock

Catholic News Agency, Dec 14, 2020 - The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that Catholics can take two of the three available COVID-19 vaccines, even though they were developed with a “remote connection” to “morally compromised” cell lines.

In a statement released on Dec. 14, the bishops also said it is morally permissible in some circumstances to receive a third vaccine, developed in close connection with aborted cell lines, but that Catholics cannot allow the pandemic to “desensitize” or “weaken our determination” to oppose the evil of 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,” said the bishops.

Taking the vaccines, said the bishops, “ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community.”

The bishops also outlined concerns regarding the three vaccinations produced by Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, and restated the Church’s position on other vaccinations developed either in part or entirely from cell lines from an aborted child.

“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,” the bishops said.

The bishops also noted that “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.’”

In 1972, a female child was aborted in the Netherlands, and cells from her kidneys were extracted and developed into the cell line now known as “HEK293.” “HEK” stands for “Human Embryonic Kidney.” Cells from the HEK293 line have been commonly used in biologic research since the late 70s. The vaccinations produced by Pfizer and Moderna did not use HEK293 in their design, development, or production, but did use cells from the line in a confirmatory test, said the bishops.

“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,” said the bishops.

Conversely, the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca “should be avoided if there are alternatives available,” said the bishops, as this vaccine is “more morally compromised.”

The bishops acknowledged that while Catholics should avoid the AstraZeneca vaccine in preference for one of the other two, it may not be possible for someone to do this without putting society at risk from the coronavirus. If this were to happen, a Catholic would be permitted to receive that vaccine.

“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,” said the bishops.

“In such a case, just as accepting a vaccination for rubella with a morally compromised vaccine is morally permissible because of the lack of alternatives and the serious risk to the public health, so it would be permissible to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine,” they said.

A person who refuses to be vaccinated, said the bishops, has “a moral responsibility to undertake all the precautions necessary to ensure that one does not become a carrier of the disease to others, precautions which may include some form of self-isolation.”

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