The Word from Lansing: COVID-19 Vaccines and Moral Considerations

An elderly woman receives the COVID-19 vaccine from her health practitioner

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted individuals and families in many difficult ways. Some have battled the symptoms of the virus or worked long hours at high-risk positions. Others have said final goodbyes over the phone, lost businesses, lost jobs, or faced separation from loved ones. Each of these scenarios would have been impossible to imagine a year ago.

After the tragedy that has taken place, some families may be feeling optimistic as COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available and individuals are receiving first doses. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two for emergency use, one developed by Pfizer and one by Moderna. The AstraZeneca vaccine may soon gain FDA approval, with others still in the regulatory pipeline.

Vaccinations play a key role in protecting public health. Americans have seen firsthand the devastation of COVID-19, resulting in 20.3 million known cases and over 349,200 U.S. deaths since the crisis began (1/3/20, CDC). Vaccinations can significantly change America’s ability to fight the virus, bringing a sense of hope to many and, ideally, helping to reignite industries that have witnessed catastrophic job loss and employee despair.

The manner which certain vaccines are designed, produced, developed, or tested, however, may produce questions for Catholics, as some use cell lines originating from the tissue of babies aborted decades ago. On December 18, the diocesan bishops in Michigan issued a statement to share the moral considerations of COVID-19 vaccines. Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) encourages Catholics to consider the statement in its entirety, together with additional Church resources.1 These quotes from the statement may help people of faith further understand moral questions surrounding the COVID vaccines:

  1. While the vaccines are not entirely free from connection to the cell lines, “it is morally permissible to receive the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna.”
  2. The AstraZeneca vaccine “is more morally problematic” as “it [utilized] in the design, production, development, and confirmatory testing a cell line that originated from tissue taken from an aborted baby. [It] may be received only if there are no other alternatives.”
  3. “It is morally permissible to be vaccinated if there are no alternatives and there are serious health risks,” which are “present due to the current pandemic.”
  4. An individual who decides not to be vaccinated “would have a moral responsibility to embrace the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the disease to others.”
  5. The bishops remind Catholics of our responsibility “to call for the development of vaccines that have no connection to abortion.”

As the fifth point illustrates, Catholics are encouraged to call for ethical vaccines. In Vaccinations and the Common Good, MCC shared the words of the Pontifical Academy for Life on this subject: “A long-term solution lies in working to ensure that future vaccines and other medicines are not based on cooperation with practices demeaning human life.”

In September, the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur officially switched from using an aborted fetal cell line to using an ethical animal cell line to produce its polio combination vaccines. The company also discontinued its stand-alone polio vaccine that used fetal cells, while retaining another one that is ethically produced. MCC encouraged Catholics to thank the company for this change, validating the efficacy of citizen engagement.

As the virus is likely to remain at least for the next few months, the lay faithful are encouraged to:

As these months may continue to be challenging for many, let us exercise the great Christian principles of compassion and courage. Let us seek these actions with hope, grounded in the message of our faith, while seeking the intercession of the saints, especially our Blessed Mother.