On this Sunday, June 7, 2020 file photo, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez celebrates the the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Gomez is serving as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops president since 2019. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.The top Catholic bishops in the United States would really like Catholics to please just take the COVID-19 vaccine.On Monday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a seven-page statement outlining the organization’s position on the “moral considerations” of three COVID-19 vaccines. Although abortion opponents have spent months advocating for a vaccine that is not in any way connected to fetal cells obtained through abortions—which are commonly used in drug development—the bishops wanted to make their ultimate position clear: Catholics have a moral obligation to take the vaccines, regardless of their potential links to abortion.
“Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community,” wrote Bishops Kevin Rhoades, of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana, and Joseph Naumann, of Kansas City in Kansas. “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.”“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,” they wrote of the vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Moderna. This week, U.S. officials started inoculating Americans with the Pfizer vaccine, while a second vaccine from Moderna looks set to be cleared by the FDA for use by the end of the week. But just how long it will take to vaccinate enough of the U.S. population, or whether enough people will even be willing to take the rapidly created vaccines, remains an open question. Although more than eight Americans are willing to be immunized against COVID-19, there are still deep divides on the topic, according to a Monday ABC News/Ipsos poll. Twenty-six percent of Republicans said that they would never take a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to just 6 percent of Democrats. Similarly, just 28 percent of Republicans said that they would take the vaccine immediately, while 49 percent of Democrats say the same.
Vaccines have long been a source of contention among anti-abortion activists, since cells collected from abortions were used in the development of common, modern vaccines, such as those used to fight chickenpox and hepatitis A. Back in April, prominent abortion foes—including Rhoades and Naumann—asked the FDA to prioritize incentivizing vaccines that are “free from any connection to abortion.”But the Catholic hierarchy hasn’t told its adherents to become anti-vaxxers. In guidance first issued in 2007 (and updated in 2015), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that while vaccines manufactured “using fetal tissue from induced abortions” pose a “moral dilemma” for Catholics, they can use those vaccines if there are no other options. Bishops from conference already gave their blessing to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines back in November, after two bishops in Texas and California suggested that Catholics shouldn’t rush to get vaccinated. The Pontifical Academy of Life, which reckons with ethical questions and Catholic teachings, has also said that the two vaccines were not considered “morally prohibitive.”But the bishops’ Monday evaluation of those two vaccines was far more detailed. Neither vaccine, the bishops said, relied on “morally compromised cell lines in the design, development, or production,” although they said that they did use such cells as part of the testing process. The bishops also reviewed a third vaccine, from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, which is not as far along in the development pipeline as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That vaccine is “more morally compromised,” because abortion-linked cell lines were used in its design, development, and production, according to the bishops.“The AstraZeneca vaccine should be avoided if there are alternatives available,” the bishops advised.Meanwhile, just this week, an anti-abortion group in Georgia condemned both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for being linked to abortion. The group, Georgia Right to Life, “strongly urges the rejection of such vaccines.”