The Vatican Said We Don’t Have To Take A COVID19 Vaccine?

The Vatican Said We Don’t Have To Take A COVID19 Vaccine? December 22, 2020

No photographer named: Vaccination Syringe Injection /pixy.org

Due, in great part, to various bishops, priests, and laity suggesting Catholics (and others) must not take any of the available COVID19 vaccines, because they claimed it would be immoral to do so, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, following a long-standing tradition concerning the use of vaccines,  issued a statement indicating that it is indeed morally acceptable to partake of a COVID19 vaccine. Likewise, the Congregation said that it is morally necessary for Catholics to do what they can to put an end to the COVID19 pandemic.  The statement used traditional Catholic teaching concerning remote material cooperation with evil, so that even if the vaccines were not developed in the most morally acceptable ways, Catholics can still use them without thinking such use in any way affirms the methods employed in their production[1]:

In this sense, when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available (e.g. in countries where vaccines without ethical problems are not made available to physicians and patients, or where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage and transport conditions, or when various types of vaccines are distributed in the same country but health authorities do not allow citizens to choose the vaccine with which to be inoculated) it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process. [2]

The Congregation understood, just as some pacifists will resist any engagement with violence, so some people might have a conscience objection to using the vaccine due to the way they believe it was produced. They are not to be forced to take the vaccine, however, if they do not do so, they must do what they can to protect others from the spread of COVID19. Indeed, they have greater obligations to do so, for they put more people at risk due to the fact they will not take the vaccine:

At the same time, practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good. In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed. Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.[3]

To be clear, the Congregation argues first from a general principle about vaccinations. It is not normally obligatory for someone to take a vaccine. There are good reasons for this, among which, there are a few who cannot take them (due to allergies or other health concerns). This is why it cannot be seen as a universal obligation, even with the COVID19 vaccine. There are some people who cannot take it (which doctors recognize, and are already telling such patients who they are and why they cannot take it).

It would be foolish to stop reading what the Congregation said with that general rule, for they also point out another general rule which must be followed: we must work for the common good, and that means, to protect our own health and the health of our neighbors. Vaccination is often the best means to do this, and unless we have good reasons not to do so, we should receive the COVID19 vaccine when possible. However, if one has extreme conscientious objection to the use of the vaccine because of how it was produced, the Congregation says that our moral responsibility to protect our neighbor continues; we must do what we can to avoid the transmission of the virus. If we will not be vaccinated, for whatever reason, we must still work for the common good. We must make sure we do not spread the virus to others, and that means, we might find ourselves being greatly inconvenienced.  Conscientious objection always comes with grave responsibilities; it is not a way out of our obligations, but rather, it must made with the greatest of moral clarity and consideration. That means, those who have some sort of conscientious objection to the use of the vaccines which are available will find themselves burdened with more, not less, responsibilities. Those who would try to use conscientious objection to vaccines as a reason to ignore their moral obligations to their neighbors disqualify themselves from using such an objection, because it is not  a true moral objection. It is sophistry, for the decision does not come from a sound ethical consideration (which is why many who try to use such an objection show themselves failing to make a proper objection as they ignore and ridicule basic elements involved in creating a sound moral argument). That is indeed a major problem we have seen consistently throughout the COVID19 pandemic: many selfish people try to suggest reasons why they can ignore their responsibility to society, and in doing so, showing they reject basic moral expectations which are being put on them.  Is it any surprise that those who ignore social distancing, those who ignore mask mandates, those who ignore and reject the use of lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus, are now objecting to vaccines because, as usual, they do not want to be told what to do? They say they are adults who can decide things for themselves, but their reasoning and actions are like little children.

I have seen some people talking about how the Vatican gave a “way out” for those who don’t want to take the vaccine. The problem is that those people who will use the Vatican there will ignore the full statement issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  They don’t want to hear about their moral obligation to protect not only their neighbors, but themselves, from COVID19. They must be told to listen. They must be shown the moral reasoning the Vatican had consistently used in regards the use of vaccines. The must be told that if they are unable, or unwilling, to take a COVID19 vaccine, then they must do everything else they can do to protect society from the virus. They are going to have to promote the use of masks, social distancing, and limits to the number of people who can gather together at a time. If they truly want to be shown to have a true moral claim, they must show they are moral by their actions. The must be told they can’t be against lockdowns if they are unwilling to promote vaccination. They must be told they can’t be against mask mandates if they are unwilling to promote vaccination. They must be told they can’t be against contact tracing if they are unwilling to promote vaccination. They must be told they are obligated to protect their neighbor. And if they are unwilling to use the best means to do so, they are even more obligated to promote the few options which they have left.

Yes, it can be said, the Congregation does not say we must take the vaccine. But they say we must do what we can for the common good, with the implication that for most of us, that means, we should take the vaccine when we are able to do so. And if we don’t, we must do whatever else we can to save others from the horrors of COVID19.


[1] See Congregation For the Doctrine Of The Faith, “Note On The Morality Of Using Some Anti-Covid-19 Vaccines.” Vatican translation.  ¶4.

[2] Congregation For the Doctrine Of  The Faith, “Note On The Morality Of Using Some Anti-Covid-19 Vaccines,” ¶2.

[3] Congregation For the Doctrine Of The Faith, “Note On The Morality Of Using Some Anti-Covid-19 Vaccines,” ¶5.

 

 

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