UPDATE (March 15, 2021): Catholics are reminded that the only approved vaccines are those produced by Pfizer and Moderna. There are growing concerns with the AstraZeneca vaccine with respect to unexpected blood-clotting (April 8 update from UPI – CLICK HERE). The preparation of that vaccine involves the use of fetal tissue obtained through abortion (see below on information with regard to fetal cell lines derived from such tissue*), and it is morally unacceptable to receive it under any circumstances (please read below on the matter of compelled acceptance+).
Original post continues below:
Some parishioners have had questions with regard to the morality of receiving vaccinations against the COVID-19 virus. It is of understandable concern as it has been reported that they are “abortion-tainted.”
Owing to these concerns the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a statement (link here) that goes into the moral reasoning that has the Church allowing the faithful to receive these vaccines in spite of such odious associations.
The statement is intended only to address the ethical matters involved specifically with regard to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (and not, necessarily, future vaccines),
“We do not intend to judge the safety and efficacy of these vaccines, although ethically relevant and necessary, as this evaluation is the responsibility of biomedical researchers and drug agencies. Here, our objective is only to consider the moral aspects of the use of the vaccines against Covid-19 that have been developed from cell lines derived from tissues obtained from two fetuses that were not spontaneously aborted.”
– Note on the morality of using some anti-COVID-19 vaccines (Dec. 21, 2020)
In the case of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, HEK 293 (Human Embryonic Kidney) cells were used. These are believed to have originated with an abortion, but are not continuously gathered as more abortions are performed. They were originally taken from a 1973 procedure in the Netherlands and have since been reproduced in labs for various research purposes. Dr. Tara Sander Lee, a senior fellow at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, explained in an interview with the U.S. publication, National Review (link here) that “a fetal cell line is not the same as fetal tissue.” These cell lines began with a cell taken from fetal tissue, but the actual cells used for research were “multiplied into many cells of the same kind.” So, while “the connection with abortion is still there,” she said, Pfizer and Moderna have not been “trafficking in babies’ body parts” in the same way that Planned Parenthood has been accused of. There is an important distinction between fetal cell lines and fetal tissue, although in the opinion of some, it is morally wrong for scientists to work with this material.
It is also important to understand that there are no fetal cells or other fetal material in the vaccines themselves. The HEK 293 cells were used for testing of the vaccines. *Some of the higher-profile products under development — by Janssen Research and Johnson & Johnson, as well as AstraZeneca and Oxford University, for example — are using fetal cells in the production process. In these vaccines, there is a “direct line” between the vaccine and abortion; that line does not exist in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. One company working on a vaccine free of any ties whatsoever to fetal cell lines is CureVac, a German biotech firm that has just begun Phase 3 clinical trials on a vaccine that uses HeLa cells reproduced from non-fetal cells.
Both popes Francis and Benedict XVI have been vaccinated; and His Holiness Pope Francis has urged strongly that everyone be inoculated for the sake of the common good. However, there are a number of prominent prelates who have expressed contrary opinions–in summary, that this cooperation with the scientific establishment’s immoral practice will only encourage further use of fetal tissue.
+One factor that mitigates this problem of cooperation with evil for ordinary faithful is what in moral theology is referred to as “formal cooperation.” That is, those receiving the vaccine did not act to procure the abortion from which the HEK 293 cells were derived; nor is their taking of the vaccine implying approval of the abortion in question because of the benefit derived by the use of the cell line. Further, if vaccination proves to be a requirement for work, for travel and in the case of the elderly, access to nursing facilities by family members, any sense of cooperation is further diminished. The use of such severe penalties as loss of employment and other threats, such as forcible detention, imprisonment, is akin to any compelled immoral act; the person is absolved of responsibility.
We must sympathize with those who will nonetheless approach this issue with considerable angst. As Christians we are bound to our Saviour by His willing sacrificial death, and despite the fact of our having no direct responsibility for his unjust execution, recognize in our moral failings a complicity in the sinfulness that required His sacrifice. It is because of this theological understanding that we see the spiritual implications of other acts of violence and physical violation that have moral repercussions. The victim in the instance of HEK 293 gave no consent, was wholly innocent and shamefully violated. To rationalize something so despicable by pointing to the development of vaccines as a greater good cannot be the reasoning of a faithful Catholic. So, we are not absolved from our ongoing responsibility to advocate for the unborn, and to urge our governments to pursue ethically developed vaccines, such as that of CureVac.