Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71(2) May 2021

Editorial - Covid Vaccines: Should we?

Dr Pravin Thevasathan

Pravin ThevathasanMay Catholics have the Covid vaccine? In order to answer this, we need to distinguish between formal and material cooperation. What do these terms mean? Consider the issue of abortion. The anaesthetist and the theatre nurse present at an abortion are formally cooperating. They are equally guilty of the sin of abortion as the doctor carrying it out. What about the person who cleans the theatre or the electrician who making sure that the place is running smoothly? They are not formally cooperating. They are not culpable of the grave sin of abortion.

Let us now examine the morality of having the vaccine. Can the use of fetal cell-lines at some stage in the development of some of the vaccines make it morally bad for us to have the vaccine? We need to remember that fetal cell-lines are not the same as fetal body parts. The body parts were sourced from an abortion that occurred some decades ago. If this was a so-called therapeutic abortion, it was gravely immoral. The tissues were then used to manufacture cell-lines. While these cell-lines are developed from the tissue, they do not include fetal material. Because I am pro-life, I will put it more bluntly: they do not have parts of the baby.

If at all possible, I would opt for a vaccine that was not manufactured in this way. However, the reality is that I may not get that choice. So may I have a vaccine whose creation involved fetal cell lines at some stage? The Catholic Church states that the person who now takes the vaccine does not formally cooperate in the grave sin of the abortion that occurred some decades previously.

It is an unfortunate fact that some pro-life groups appear to have taken the view that having vaccines that have been developed this way is never justified . So have some good bishops.

There are Catholics who believe that the mortality rate in Covid is the same as in seasonal flu. It is not. It is much higher. How much higher is difficult to estimate while we are still in a pandemic.

Such people correctly state that the Church is not pronouncing on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. But they themselves appear to take a somewhat skeptical stance on these issues. 

In my opinion, they are correct to say the no one should be forced to have the vaccine. But we need to educate them in order to help them make decisions based on the correct information. There is so much misinformation about this. 

I am pro-life. But I have seen the impact that Covid has had on the vulnerable and the disabled. I believe that I am following pro-life beliefs when I do everything reasonably possible to keep them safe. This includes recommending that they have the vaccine.