US Catholic Clergy Concerned over Morality of a COVID-19 Vaccine

    04 March 2021

    The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement this week about the recently approved COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. It said American Catholics should avoid getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if possible, but that it is "morally acceptable" to receive it if no other choice is available.

    The statement came days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine for emergency use against COVID-19. The emergency approval gave Americans a third vaccine to protect against the new coronavirus.

    The Catholic clergy said on March 2 that the approval raised questions about the morality of "using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines." Abortion is a medical operation that ends the life of a human fetus.

    The clergy said that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine "was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns." They noted that Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines used abortion-derived cell lines "for testing them, but not in their production."

    The statement came although Johnson & Johnson said "there is no fetal tissue in the vaccine."

    The clergy's comment re-started a debate among American Catholics over which COVID-19 vaccine to use or whether to get vaccinated at all.

    FILE - The Vatican said that Pope Francis received the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine on January 14, 2021. (AP file photo)
    FILE - The Vatican said that Pope Francis received the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine on January 14, 2021. (AP file photo)

    Last December, the Vatican said "it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process." However, it said that is the case "when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available."

    The Vatican did not name any vaccine in its statement. At the time, only two COVID-19 vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, were approved by the FDA and other European health agencies for emergency use.

    Pope Francis received his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine in January. He said taking a vaccine was "an ethical action" because it involved the lives of others as well as one's own.

    The Vatican also announced in February that any Vatican employee who refuses to get a coronavirus shot without a medical reason could be fired.

    On Tuesday, the American clergy said that "if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna's vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson's." On the same day, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that American drug-maker Merck will help produce the newly-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

    Biden is the second American Catholic president and known for his faith. He said he wanted "to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May."

    Bishop Robert McElroy is head of the large Catholic Diocese of San Diego in California. He talked about the vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and the one awaiting approval from AstraZeneca. The Catholic official said, "it is entirely morally legitimate to receive any of these four vaccines, and to recognize, as Pope Francis has noted, that in receiving them we are truly showing love for our neighbor and our God."

    Americans, however, may have no choice.

    People are generally offered vaccines as they become available. Additionally, the Johnson & Johnson single shot can be stored at normal refrigeration temperature making it easier for vaccination. The two-shot vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require extremely cold storage.

    I'm Dan Friedell.

    Hai Do wrote this report for Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    derived –adj. to take or get from

    ethically –adv. involving a question of right or wrong behavior

    irreproachable –adj. not deserving criticism or blame; not involving anything wrong

    entirely –adv. completely, fully

    legitimate –adj. permitted by the rules

    refrigeration –n. the process of keeping something cold

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