To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?

In Reflections and Homilies by Deacon ScottLeave a Comment

For some time now I’ve been considering whether or not I should share my thoughts on getting vaccinated against the dreaded COVID-19 virus. I understand that there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue and I fully recognize that it is one’s personal choice as to whether or not you get the vaccine. We all have our reasons for why we do what we do and I totally respect the fact that many are making choices according to what they believe to be their own well-formed conscience. With that caveat, I will wade into the waters to share with you the issues I have considered in forming my conscience regarding this matter.

I would never presume that one’s decision to be or not to be vaccinated when made with a well-formed conscience is a faulty decision. We all have both the privilege and the responsibility to make decisions for ourselves based on our conscience. However, the question I continue to ask myself is whether or not one’s conscience is truly well-formed? Have we looked at all the facts or are we making a decision based on political leanings, mis-understood moral issues, or questionable medical advice found on Facebook? After reading numerous articles and speaking with many people I respect about this issue, I’ve finally decided that I am going to weigh in. God help me.

So where do I stand on being vaccinated? I stand firmly in the camp that we should all be vaccinated unless there is a medical reason determined by your physician that doing so would constitute a significant health risk. I believe that being vaccinated is clearly in one’s self-interest and that it is also the socially responsible thing to do; an act of love for our neighbor and for society as a whole. I believe that the risks of not being vaccinated greatly outweigh the risks of being vaccinated. I know that I have lost some of you now that I’ve said this. I certainly don’t want to waste your time if your mind is made up that you will not be vaccinated. But if you still aren’t sure, or if you are interested in learning more about why I have come to this conclusion, read on.

There has been a great deal of ink spilled on this topic and I will be referencing those articles which have been most helpful to me in forming my conscience. I hope you will take the time to read them if you are truly interested in learning more. I believe they are thoughtful and well-balanced in their presentation of the facts. They present the facts with much greater clarity than I am able to do. Therefore, I will simply summarize what I believe to be the key issues and refer you to these articles for the details which support my conclusions.

Perhaps you will come to a different conclusion than I have after reading them, but I believe that any serious seeker of truth owes it to him/herself to honestly ponder all sides of a given issue before making a decision on that issue. This is especially true with controversial matters that involve moral choices. So here we go…

Objection #1: The Morality of Receiving the Vaccine – Many people who oppose vaccination do so primarily as a result of the fact that the testing of the vaccines in their development used cell lines from a fetus that was aborted in the early 70’s. As a pro-life person myself, I can absolutely relate to this concern. However, both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have received the vaccine and Pope Francis has come out as a strong supporter of doing so, as has the USCCB. As my wife would say, as Catholics we should never presume to be “holier than the Pope” (and in this case the Pope Emeritus) when we apply the principles of our faith in our decision-making processes.

The issue of cooperation with evil is what most people who oppose the vaccines on moral grounds will cite as their primary reason for opposing them. To those who feel strongly about this, I would suggest that you become more familiar with what leading pro-life Catholic scholars have to say on this matter and also consider how you might be remotely cooperating with evil by using any number of other commodities that most of us use with little thought or concern. These include many of our modern over-the-counter medicines (aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, Tums, Pepto Bismol, Ex-Lax and more) which use fetal cell lines in their development and/or testing. 

In fact, a regional health system in Arkansas recently required that all employees who claim a religious exemption from being vaccinated sign an attestation form listing 30 commonly used medications that use fetal cell lines in their development and/or testing, asking employees to “truthfully acknowledge and affirm that my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true and I do not use or will use any of the medications listed as examples or any other medication … that has used fetal cell lines in their development and/or testing.”

Cooperation with evil also comes into play when we buy virtually anything that’s made in China, not to mention a variety of commonly purchased commodities including batteries, ketchup, bananas, coffee, potato chips, cell phones, computers, and more.

This article by Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC does an excellent job of summarizing the facts regarding the concern of many regarding their cooperation with evil if they were to receive the vaccine, as well as the relatively unquestioned precedents in the past of requiring certain groups within the general population to be required to receive a particular vaccine for the benefit of those they serve. 

This leaves me asking myself if so many of the medicines and products we routinely purchase and use involve remote cooperation with evil, in fact far greater cooperation with evil than does receiving a COVID vaccine, why do so many Catholics object to receiving the vaccine on moral grounds? To me this smells of hypocrisy. Perhaps it’s simply because none of us knew that so many of the products we use in modern times have this remote connection to evil deeds? If one continues to claim a conscientious objection to the vaccine based on the use of fetal cell lines in its testing, then it seems to me that one also needs to refrain from taking aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, Ex-Lax and a couple dozen other commonly used medications. 

Objection #2: The COVID-19 Vaccines are not Proven to be Safe – This concern is the one which I believe is most valid. It’s true that these vaccines are very new and had an “experimental” status at the time they were introduced. Since then the FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine and will most likely approve the Moderna vaccine in the near future.

Having said this, our science today is far more advanced than it was in 1798 when Edward Jenner was largely responsible for introducing a smallpox vaccination to the medical community, and widespread vaccination began in the early 1800s. So many of the vaccines most of us accept as a routine part of the protection of our children against deadly diseases were developed years ago when our science was far less advanced than it is today.

Most parents, with the exception of those who identify with fringe groups of various anti-vaccination movements, have their children vaccinated as a routine component of their medical care. I know when I was a child in the 50’s and 60’s, I received all of my vaccines like clockwork. It was simply the responsible thing to do. No one wanted their children to get polio, measles, smallpox, mumps, tetanus or rabies. It was widely understood that the best protection from these illnesses was the associated vaccine. I’ve had them all and like the majority of my peers I’ve never suffered any ill effects from being vaccinated. I’m sure others have and I understand that no vaccine is 100% safe for everyone. I don’t mean to downplay the fact that there is always a risk when we inject a vaccine into our body, yet we need to honestly weigh that generally small risk against the far greater benefits of not contracting a deadly disease.

Yes, it is true that we do not yet know whether or not there are long-term harmful effects of the vaccines. However, to refuse to be vaccinated because the vaccines may possibly have an adverse health effect on us in the future seems irresponsible to me. When you weigh the known good that they do in preventing COVID today against their POSSIBLE negative effects in the future, it seems naive at best to refuse to be vaccinated on these grounds. At some point we need to trust the scientific process and those who oversee and approve these vaccines, even at a time when so many distrust our government agencies. 

Objection #3: My Body, My Choice – Social media has been used to spread misinformation and fear regarding the use of vaccines, especially the COVID vaccines. Perhaps even more concerning to me than the spread of anti-vaccine propaganda is the idea that one’s personal choice and preference is more important than acting in the interest of one’s neighbor and the good of our society. The familiar mantra of “My body, my choice” is one that is well-known to all of us. It seems ironic to me that those who avoid getting the COVID vaccine because of its remote ties to an aborted fetus from years ago would use this pro-choice and pro-abortion mantra. 

The Catholic Church (Pope Francis and the U.S. Bishops) has gone on record to encourage vaccination as an act of social responsibility. In the USCCB’s document entitled Moral Considerations Regarding The New Covid-19 Vaccines the Bishops state “…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.” In the footnote for that statement they continue by stating “Every person who becomes ill with COVID-19 places an additional burden on the health care systems, which in certain cities, states, and nations have been in danger of being overwhelmed.” This has certainly come to pass and the recent spread of the Delta Variant has resulted in a dramatic increase in hospitalizations, especially among children and the unvaccinated. Today’s crisis of increased COVID cases is largely a crisis of our own making; it is a crisis born of the refusal of a large percentage of the population to be vaccinated.

It’s Not All About You – None of us is an island; we are all members of a larger society and the decisions we make have an impact on that society. From a Christian perspective, we are commanded by Christ to love our neighbor. Our lives are a gift from God and while we certainly must care for them, we must also care for those around us. None of us is the center of the universe. In the same way that we pro-life Christians are repulsed by the attitude of the pro-abortionists who have no concern for the rights of the unborn, we should also take a stand against those who place more importance on questionable, and even hypocritical, moral concerns than they do on the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the most vulnerable in our society. Unless you are among the relatively small number of people who might be at risk of illness from taking the vaccine, it’s my strong opinion that you should take the small risk and get vaccinated for the greater good. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Dear friends in Christ, we are in a time of crisis. God has given us the science to develop effective vaccines against this scourge of COVID-19 and its evolving variants. Not to avail ourselves of this prevention is akin to refusing to be rescued from a capsized ship by a helicopter because we are afraid of flying. The Church has approved the use of these vaccines as being morally sound and the techniques of modern science are far more advanced than the science that produced the vaccines of our childhood. While some may be at high risk of taking the vaccine and should not do so if advised by their physician, the vast majority of us should be vaccinated. It’s the right thing to do: for us, for our families and friends, and for the greater society as a whole. 

God bless you.

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