The White House on Wednesday claimed that Pope Francis has affirmed “the safety and efficacy” of the three COVID vaccines approved for use in the U.S.
However, the latest statement of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on the morality of some COVID vaccines limited its judgement to “moral aspects” of their use, and not their “safety and efficacy.” And while Pope Francis has strongly recommended that people be vaccinated against COVID-19, he has not commented on the safety of specific vaccines.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked by Owen Jensen of EWTN News Nightly about “ethical concerns” regarding the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson.
Jensen asked Psaki if President Biden could speak to concerns of Americans about the vaccine; the Johnson & Johnson vaccine utilized cell lines derived from what is believed to be a baby aborted in the 1970s. The cell lines were used in the design, production, and testing of the vaccine.
Psaki replied that Pope Francis has upheld the safety of the vaccines.
“He [Biden] would say, I know the Pope has spoken to the safety and efficacy of all three vaccines, and the American people—these vaccines have been validated by health and medical experts. They’re trying to save people’s lives, keep people safe, and return our country to normal,” Psaki said.
The Vatican’s CDF and the U.S. bishops’ conference have both said that vaccines derived from the problematic cell lines are morally acceptable for Catholics to receive, due to the gravity of the pandemic. However, Catholics should seek to receive a vaccine with a lesser connection to the cell lines if one is available to them, both offices have said.
The CDF, in its Dec. 21 statement, noted that its judgment was on the moral application of the vaccines, and not their efficacy.
“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,” the Vatican stated.
When he received a COVID vaccine in January, Pope Francis said in a television interview “I believe that, ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine. It is an ethical option because it concerns your life but also that of others.”
He said that people should accept a vaccine if doctors advise them it is safe, but did not comment on any specific vaccine. Although the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was made available to Vatican employees and officials in January, it was not reported which specific COVID vaccine Pope Francis received.
“I don’t understand why some say this could be a dangerous vaccine,” Pope Francis said. “If doctors present it to you as something that can be fine and has no special dangers, why not take it?”
Currently, three COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for use in the U.S. In addition to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the companies Pfizer and Moderna each produced a vaccine that was approved late in 2020. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines utilized the controversial cell lines in some tests, but had no direct connection to the cell lines in design and production.
The Vatican’s statement acknowledged situations where Catholics may not have a choice of vaccine—such as local health authorities only making one vaccine available to residents, or when “special storage and transport conditions” inhibit the distribution of one vaccine in a particular area. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require special cold storage and are administered in two shots, whereas the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be kept at refrigerator temperature and is administered in one shot.
Other vaccine candidates without any connection to the controversial cell lines are still being developed. When “ethically irreproachable” vaccines are not available, 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.”
Although reception of a vaccine would be “passive material cooperation” in the abortion from which the cell lines are believed to have originated, such cooperation would be “remote” and can be justified in light of the gravity of the pandemic, the Vatican said.
“It must therefore be considered that, in such a case, all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive,” the Vatican stated.
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