Covid-19 Vaccines: Who Should I Listen To?

Author: Kristina Cooper

Picture: Jernej Furman, Flickr

Covid-19 Vaccines: Who Should I Listen To?

Regarding the issue of whether Catholics should be vaccinated, we must check our facts before we make a decision, says Kristina Cooper. 

Due to growing cynicism and disillusionment with convention channels of communication, social media has become the new source of truth. 

I am often sent messages telling me the “real truth” about what is going on.  As Catholics living in a secular society where our national leadership  is often promoting different values to ours, we have to be particularly discerning about which experts we listen to.

However, if we might question the values and decisions of our politicians or government, at times, we need to make sure that, if we take a stand on something, we have checked our facts, and are not simply responding emotionally to the latest tweet.

Who Could I Trust For The Truth?

I was a bit concerned recently when I received several messages urging me not to be vaccinated, as the current vaccines were making use of aborted foetal material.

Obviously this is an ethical issue for Catholics, but was it true-and who could I trust to tell me the truth? For this kind of question the Anscombe (formerly Linacre) Bioethics Centre based in Oxford is a very helpful source for Catholics:  This is a Roman Catholic academic institute that works in the interface between science and Catholic morality and ethics.

It was set up in 1977 by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, but is an independent body that can speak in an informed way about thorny ethical issues from assisted suicide to human-non-human experimentation. 

As well as books to be bought there are also  free research papers dealing with various aspects of COVID 19 and, in particular, the question I was interested in: “COVID 19 and use of Foetal Cell lines” by Dr Helen Watt, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute. You can read the paper here.

The Truth Was More Subtle

Reading this paper, I realised the truth was a lot more subtle than the information that had been presented to me. The scientists in the UK are not currently plundering abortion clinics for foetal material the way it was implied. 

Yet it is true that the vaccine that is being developed by Oxford University is using a cell line modified from tissue taken from an aborted child fifty years ago, and another in 1985.

The article helpfully points out that not all vaccines currently being developed have this link, which means it could well  be possible for Catholics to ask for a different vaccine, rather than refusing to be vaccinated.

If there were no other suitable successful vaccines, however, the paper weighs up the different ethical questions surrounding using, for example, the Oxford University vaccine. The link is quite old but, however far removed from the original harvesting of material, it is still there; and, by being vaccinated, is one colluding with the original practice and discouraging non-problematical vaccines from being developed?

Making An Informed Decision

On the other hand, with mass vaccinations, it is not just oneself that suffers, if as a result of refusing to be vaccinated, the virus is given room to multiply, infect and possibly kill more people.

In a short article one cannot do justice to all nuances and questions that this paper looks at, but for anybody considering not being vaccinated, and even those who are, I would highly recommend going to the Anscombe website and downloading the paper, so an informed decision can be made. 

If we are going to put our trust in someone, let's stick to those who know the facts, and are faithful to the wisdom and the official teaching of the Church. I will certainly be returning to the Anscombe Centre if any more sticky questions come up in the future.

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