BY JULIE ASHER
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The "gravity" of the COVID-19 outbreak and "the lack of availability of alternative vaccines," are "sufficiently serious" reasons to accept the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, said Bishop Kevin Rhoades and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the chairmen of the U.S. bishops' doctrine and pro-life committees, respectively, on Dec. 14.
"Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community," they said. "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."
On Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency-use approval to the Pfizer vaccine, with approval expected for Moderna the week of Dec. 14. UPS and FedEx began shipping the doses across the country Dec. 12, with the first shipments arriving Dec. 14.
On Dec. 8, The Lancet medical journal reported that four clinical trials of a third vaccine, being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, "appears to have moderate efficacy in preventing symptomatic illness, and may significantly reduce hospitalization from the disease." Astra Zeneca is expected to apply to the FDA for emergency use of its vaccine in the coming weeks.
Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann said they found the AstraZeneca vaccine it to be "more morally compromised" and concluded this vaccine "should be avoided" if there are alternatives available.
They added, “"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," the two prelates stated. "In such a case ... it would be permissible to accept the AstraZeneca vaccine."
In the Dec. 14 statement, Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann also said, "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.”
At the same time, the bishops also cautioned Catholics against complacency about the moral issue of abortion and ethical issues surrounding the development of some vaccines.
"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," Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann said.
"It is true that one can receive benefits from an evil action in the past without intending that action or approving of it. The association with the evil action that comes with receiving benefits from that evil action, however, can have a corrupting influence on one's perception of the evil action, making it more difficult to recognize it as evil," they explained.
"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," Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann said.
Editor's Note: The full text of Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann's statement is available online at https://www.usccb.org/moral-considerations-covid-vaccines.