BY JULIE ASHER
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – While confusion has arisen in the media recently over "the moral permissibility" of using the COVID-19 vaccines announced by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna, it is not "immoral to be vaccinated with them," the chairmen of the U.S. bishops' doctrine and pro-life committees said Nov. 23.
Bishop Kevin J. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, addressed the issue in a memo to their brother bishops.
Catholic News Service obtained a copy of the memo Nov. 24.
"Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from the body of an aborted baby at any level of design, development or production," the two prelates said. "They are not completely free from any connection to abortion, however, as both Pfizer and Moderna made use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products.
"There is thus a connection, but it is relatively remote," they continued. "Some are asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines, then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching."
Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann cited three Vatican documents that "treat the question of tainted vaccines" – the 2005 study by the Pontifical Academy for Life, "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses;" paragraph Nos. 34-35 in the 2008 "Instruction on Certain Bioethical Questions" ("Dignitatis Personae") by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and the 2017 "Note on Italian Vaccine Issue," by the Pontifical Academy for Life.
"These documents all point to the immorality of using tissue taken from an aborted child for creating cell lines," they explained. "They also make distinctions in terms of the moral responsibility of the various actors involved, from those involved in designing and producing a vaccine to those receiving the vaccine.
"Most importantly," they added, "they all make it clear that, at the level of the recipient, it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there are no alternatives and there is a serious risk to health."
In a Nov. 21 statement, the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, Mercy Sister Mary Haddad, said CHA ethicists, "in collaboration with other Catholic bioethicists," used the guidelines released by the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life in 2005 and 2017 on the origin of vaccines and "find nothing morally prohibitive with the vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech (Pfizer's German partner) and Moderna."
She also said CHA "believes it is essential that any approved COVID-19 vaccine be distributed in a coordinated and equitable manner," because COVID-19 "has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, low-income communities, persons with preexisting health conditions, and racial and ethnic minorities."
CHA encouraged Catholic health organizations "to distribute the vaccines developed by these companies."
On Nov. 11, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that results of a large ongoing study show its vaccine is 95% effective; the vaccine is already being manufactured and has been since October. Five days later, Moderna said preliminary data from its phase three trial shows its coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19.
Pfizer and Moderna are applying to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval of the vaccines, which would quickly pave the way for distribution of the vaccines. The FDA is to meet later this month.
In May, the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, the moniker of its initiative to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to Americans as quickly as possible. The program has funded the manufacturing of six promising vaccine candidates, two of which are the ones announced by Moderna and Pfizer.
As soon as the FDA approves their vaccines for distribution, Operation Warp Speed hopes to distribute 300 million doses around the country by January. Because Moderna and Pfizer's vaccines involve two shots per person, this would be enough to immunize 150 million Americans.
Other COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon include one being developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University.