LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Calling a vaccine the “most effective” way to stop COVID-19, England’s bishops say each person “has a duty to protect others from infection with its danger of serious illness, and for some, death.”
The British government has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and it will begin being administered to medical staff and care home residents on Tuesday. It is expected that it will take months to vaccinate the population.
“The development of a vaccine against COVID-19 presents an important breakthrough in protecting others as well as oneself from the virus; a virus which has not only caused a global pandemic and led to a huge loss of life but has also placed a great burden on healthcare workers and systems,” said Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton., the chair of the department of Social Justice for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Moth’s statement drew attention to the bioethical debate surrounding the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines are developed using cell lines that continue multiplying indefinitely from a tissue sample. Two such cell lines, the HEK 293 from the 1970s and the PER C6 cell line from the 1980s, originate in tissue from an aborted child.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine did not use these cell lines in development and production, but did use them in testing.
Other vaccines in development, such as the Oxford Astra-Zeneca and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccines, used the fetal cell-line in design, production and confirmatory testing.
In his statement, Moth noted the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Pontifical Academy of Life have expressed the view that one may in good conscience and for a grave reason receive a vaccine sourced in this way, provided that there is a sufficient moral distance between the present administration of the vaccine and the original wrongful action.
“In the COVID-19 pandemic, we judge that this grave reason exists and that one does not sin by receiving the vaccine. Both the Pfizer & BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have a different source since they are mRNA-based vaccines,” the bishop said.
“Each Catholic must educate his or her conscience on this matter and decide what to do, also bearing in mind that a vaccine must be safe, effective, and universally available, especially to the poor of the world. Catholics may in good conscience receive any of these vaccines for the good of others and themselves. In good conscience, one may refuse a particular vaccine but continues to have a duty to protect others from infection,” Moth said.
Across the UK on Sunday, 17,272 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded, with 231 deaths.
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