Both the Vatican and the USCCB have stated that being vaccinated against Covid-19 is an act of charity and recommended for the common good.
We’re a few months into our vaccination efforts here in the United States, but the approval of new vaccines means the arrival of more questions. Here’s what the Catholic Church and our bishops say about the vaccines currently authorized and recommended by the CDC.
On March 2, 2021, the US Bishops released a statement about the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, explaining, “Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns.”
Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told Drew Mariani, “Two different cell lines from abortions were used in the manufacturing and the testing of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. So that immediately raises more concerns, because we would say there’s a closer association with the cell lines that come from abortions. And we don’t want to be using those if there are other alternatives that are equally available, equally effective.”
So what should faithful Catholics do?
The US bishops gave a simple solution: “If one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”
If no other options are available, it is still morally acceptable to receive a Covid-19 vaccine that was produced using problematic cell lines, says the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Both Pope Francis and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI were vaccinated earlier this year.
While we are free to accept the vaccines that are available, the Church has instructed Catholics to insist that pharmaceutical companies discontinue use of cell lines that have been derived from an aborted baby, and offer totally moral options for future use.
“By pushing back it doesn’t mean that you should subject your own health to risk by declining a vaccine, it means something different,” Fr. Pacholczyk explained. “It means you should take concrete steps to contact pharmaceutical companies, maybe write a letter to the editor … those are the kinds of steps the Vatican really has encouraged over the years since 2005. We need to be doing that kind of intervention and changing the whole culture of research.”
The USCCB Committees on Doctrine and Pro-Life Activities have reminded Catholics, “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.”
Vaccine Ethical Scorecard:
Tied for first place: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna
Last place*: Johnson & Johnson
*The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been approved for use in the United States as of publication of this article. But it has also raised similar concerns to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to its use of abortion-derived cell lines in production, and if given a choice, Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen instead.
Hear some of what Fr. Tad had to say: