Scientific Errors Lead to Moral Errors Re: Vaccines (3/3 on Fr. Ripperger)

Scientific Errors Lead to Moral Errors Re: Vaccines (3/3 on Fr. Ripperger) January 17, 2021

This is the third and final post on Fr. Ripperger and vaccines in his podcast interview. The first focused on his problem with failing to identify the object of most vaccination as immunization. The second focused on his bad argument that fetal cell lines are continual theft. Both had issues with bad science and bad sourcing. This last post will bring out moral errors coming from scientific errors even clearer.

This piece will focus on bad scientific info about types of COVID vaccines, poor choice of sources overall, and his incorrect info on COVID mortality. After that, there will be a number of more minor issues that come up near the end of the podcast. These include preventative health, grave matter, lack of self-reflection, mandatory vaccines, and the Pope’s encouragement of giving vaccines to the poor.

4 Types of COVID Vaccines Morally

1. Derived From Fetal Tissue
Covid vaccine and test
Covid vaccine and test (CC0 pixabay)

39:22: “The first is that which is derived from aborted fetal tissue.” Good, there are no vaccines in development for COVID or approved in the US derived from aborted fetal tissue.

I think what he means is “vaccines grown on fetal cell lines.” This, for example, would include the Oxford-Astrazenaca vaccine that the USCCB, many bishops, I, and others have argued should be avoided if possible.

2. Protein from Fetal Tissue

40:15: “Not derived from aborted fetal tissue… They developed a protein from that cell line, but then that protein is removed. That protein is what’s inserted into the virus in order to debilitate it if I understand that correctly. Then it’s tested and produced again in the cell line.” He then says this refers to Moderna.

This is so rather far from what Moderna did. Scientists decoded the RNA of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COIVD-19) and parsed out which genes made which parts. Some of this initial research was done using HEK293 cells. From that, an annotated genome of the virus was published. From this, Moderna and Pfizer took the RNA sequence for the external spike protein of the virus and manufactured RNA artificially.

What these then do is they enter into the ribosome of the call, produce a spike protein. Then your body recognizes it as a foreign invader and creates antibodies which are then stored in white blood cells so any virus with that same spike protein attacking your body will be destroyed by your immune system. (Here’s a full explanation, including how your body would then react if SARS-CoV-2 came to your body after vaccination.) The mRNA deteriorates so after a few hours none is left in your body. The exact delivery mechanism of the mRNA to the ribosome is what distinguishes the two vaccines.

These are in no way “produced” in, on, or with the cell line. Fr. Ripperger makes a serious error in his analysis here as he misunderstood how the vaccine was produced.

3. Modifying DNA

42:02: “Then there’s the third kind: those which modify one’s DNA.”

He goes way in-depth on this, but this type of vaccine doesn’t exist. No vaccine – COVID or otherwise – modifies or changes your DNA in any meaningful way or any way that is dangerous. In fact, tanning changes your skin’s DNA in a far more dangerous way. Nuclear DNA, which is what you pass down from generation to generation is not affected at all. Mitochondrial DNA in the ovum, which a woman would also pass to her children is also unaffected. The only DNA that might change would be the cells in your immune system that keep a library of things to kill outside the nucleus adding COVID to it. This is what we want to change by getting vaccinated. (Sources: 1, 2, 3, & 4.)

I think some misunderstand when some vaccine makers talk about recombinant DNA or RNA (DNA or RNA artificially formed by mixing other biological matter). However, recombinant DNA or recombinant RNA refers to how they make some of these vaccines, not what they do you your DNA.

Again, like the second type, misunderstanding of the vaccine leads to a misguided moral judgment. His entire section here depends on false premises so is irrelevant.

4. Traditional Vaccines

45:50: “Live attenuated virus.” Which would be similar to a normal vaccine, and is moral. However, if the virus is grown on fetal cell lines it has moral issues like the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine mentioned above.

It’s interesting that the main times coming early like mRNA vaccines are not even mentioned among the four types here.

Accepting Poor Scientific Sources

46:20: refers back to Judy Mikovits in reference to vaccines grown on human and animal DNA causing chronic fatigue. Well, you know what, she cites a study about this she did which claimed that one mouse retrovirus might be a factor in chronic fatigue syndrome. This is not a general principle and has been shown to have no connection in other studies. Moreover, her study was retracted: many suspected fraud here but none could be proven beyond a doubt. Moreover, the retraction and suspicions of fraud lead to Mikovits’s firing.

46:54: “There are also the sociological questions in relationship to vaccines. This is where I think James Corbett of the Corbett Report has done a lot of very important work.”

Corbett got a “Tin Foil Hat” rating on Media Bias / Fact Check.

Corbett Report fact check rating
Corbett Report fact check rating (fair use)

This site does not give out such a rating easily. Some other sources I would consider too gullible for conspiracies do not get this rating.

It’s also telling that his most popular two videos are 9/11 truther videos claiming that Bush orchestrated the 9/11 attacks or blew the buildings up himself. This is not a reliable source I would entrust myself to for vital health info. No exact Corbett claims are mentioned, so I can’t go further.

COVID Mortality Rate

Fr. Ripperger wants to argue COVID-19’s death rate is too low. He has bad scientific info on both ends: both underplaying COVID’s death rate and overplaying what’s needed for vaccines to be moral.

47:41: “COVID does not have a sufficiently high mortality rate except in relationship to certain demographics… They may have on a case-by-case basis to have a legitimate use of these things.” 48:22: “But among the general population it has a less than a 1% death rate.” Less than 1% is a lot different than the 0.04% Ryan suggested, and you didn’t challenge. 48:31: “If there is a pathogen that has a 10-25% mortality rate or higher for the general populous then I can see using some of these things if nothing else is available.”

A few things here. First, the death rate is not the only thing, also how it is transmitted. With COVID being passed through the air, it transmits very easily to many people rapidly. Other pathogens with death rates higher than COVID exist but they often kill slower and tend to need a bodily fluid exchange. For example, I think HIV is deadlier than COVID, but it will never be breathed onto me. If an HIV vaccine came out this week, I would be less enthusiastic for it than a  COVID vaccine as my current celibate lifestyle means my chances of getting or spreading it are basically nonexistent.

Comparison to Existing Vaccines

Second, the Vatican has said that the reason was sufficiently grave enough to use prior existing vaccines. I have shown above that arguments to the contrary don’t hold water. Now, what were these vaccines for? One was for chickenpox which killed about 1 in 60,000. The other was for rubella which almost never killed the person who directly got it from outside but if a pregnant mother got it, she often had a miscarriage, stillbirth, or baby with birth defects, such that before vaccines up to 4 in 100 babies where the mother got rubella while pregnant suffered from these effects.

Both of these vaccines were grown on fetal cell lines. The SSPX even considers rubella mandatory for women seeking marriage to reduce the chance of permanent damage to one’s child. On top of COVID killing a higher rate than either of those, with the first two approved COVID vaccines in the USA (Moderna & Pfizer), the fetal cell line was only used in testing so is a whole other step removed from abortion.

A note from my post on Fr. Nix worth repeating here:

There is a debate about the exact death rate and I’ve seen reliable sources between about 0.5% and 2%. Here’s an article stating 0.6% and another using only confirmed cases that if you divide the numbers you get 1.8%. I think ~1% is a reasonable rough averaging of the various sources, and since Fr Nix decided to show Elijah’s tweet with that number, I’ll keep it. I don’t want to get into this debate: all of my arguments here are almost the same for a mortality rate in this range.

Too High a Bar for Moral Vaccination

56:04: There’s an argument that one can’t be vaccinated with a vaccine in any way connected to abortion to be part of society unless “there is no other way of securing food.” This is an atrociously high bar that is contrary to the evidence as outlined through these three posts.

58:54: “One is still free to decline the vaccination for some greater good.” Then he suggests as a theoretical that the government is using COVID to get undue influence over the population. He explicitly says this is a theoretical, just saying “people can look at the stuff out on the internet,” but this seems rather irresponsible to bring up as a theoretical unless it is a serious issue.

Preventative Health

54:06: “If you’re talking about the one [the vaccine] that’s derived morally licitly and is generally safe medically speaking, it falls to other principles whether you would get it or not.”

Preventative health is a definitive good. 2 minutes before Fr. Ripperger agreed with Steve saying, “They never bring up eating well, exercising, getting good vitamin D, etc.” (51:46) indicating that he concurs in principle on the positive value of preventative health.

If there is no moral concern with where it came from and no risk from vaccination with any serious side effects more than 1 per 500,000, there is no reason to avoid a vaccine even for a not super-dealy pathogen. Even if you think the risk of COVID is low, it is still better to take a 1 in 1,000,000 risk of serious side effects from a vaccine than a 1 in 200 risk of death from COVID. The other principles would indicate one should vaccinate but Fr. Ripperger leaves this unexplained, so a listener could easily hear this as against vaccines even in that case.

Grave Mater and Mortal Sin

54:24: “The biggest problem today is… now you have people making a distinction between grave and mortal sin.”

There has always been such a distinction as for mortal sin one needs grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. If someone thinks their marriage is valid, but it is not (say a Catholic got married by a justice of the peace), their sins against chastity with the person they assumed was their spouse are grave but not mortal because they thought they were married. The Baltimore Catechism (Q 56) says, “To make a sin mortal three things are necessary: a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.” (Although it uses “grievous,” I’ve heard “grave” more often and they would be synonyms here.)

Fr. Ripperger may be referring to a completely different issue coming from a bad theory of moral theology called proportionalism. However, he never clarifies that this is what he is referring to.

Lack of Self-Reflection

57:23: Fr. Ripperger mentions that our imagination can make something seem worse than it is or better than it is. But then fails to self-consciously apply it to himself when he has presented COVID as having a far lower death rate than every reliable source. He also seems to have let his imagination go wild with how vaccines work or the dangers they cause.

Mandatory Vaccines

He spends 10 minutes near the end about mandatory vaccination which I’m not going into as the Church has spoken against mandating vaccines with morally questionable elements for everyone. My focus has been on each person making the moral choice to vaccinate, not on them being mandatory or not.

Vaccines for the Poor

1:06:45 When Pope Francis encourages giving vaccines to the poor so they too can be vaccinated, he is obviously not speaking ex cathedra. He wants to argue on the podcast, “He’s not even speaking in his domain of competence.” He thinks the Pope should just state moral principles and leave it alone. However, the Popes have consistently spoken on more specific aspects of how we should help the poor and vulnerable. This has been common since Rerum Novarum, and happened even before then. In these statements by Popes, the concern to make sure the poor receive things for good health has been a continual concern. Francis is evidently continuing this tradition.

Conclusion

In this post, we covered how misunderstandings of the science on how coronavirus vaccines work leads to moral errors regarding them. Repeated poor sourcing lead to inaccuracies. There were errors regarding the actual COVID death rate and what is needed for a good vaccine. We examined a few minor issues from this video. This piece concluded by examining how we should distribute vaccines to the poor as Pope Francis recommends.

Through these three posts, I hope I have clearly shown the errors in Fr. Ripperger’s take on vaccines. Priests have a particular responsibility to present the truth where we are experts like moral theology and seek out the truth in other fields like science. I leave you to consider this on your own. I think several people like him, Fr. Nix, Abby Johnson, etc. have created a large degree of confusion among Catholics. I invite all of them to renounce their incorrect presentations of science and Catholic morality. Please protect yourself and others through vaccines.

If you want to read more: part 1 and part 2.

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