As the medical community has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of conspiracy theories and misinformation campaigns about the vaccines being developed have propagated. In some instances, some anti-abortion pundits have — perhaps mistakenly — spread the story that the vaccines were developed using tissue from aborted fetuses. Religious leaders are speaking out and telling those under their care that receiving the vaccines being distributed in the U.S. is not a moral compromise.
One outspoken foe of abortion based in Dallas, Southern Baptist megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, has called the vaccines a “present from God.”
“To ask God for help but then refuse the vaccine makes no more sense than calling 911 when your house is on fire, but refusing to allow the firemen in,” Jeffress said via email. “There is no legitimate faith-based reason for refusing to take the vaccine.”
The Rev. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also has celebrated their development.
“I will take it not only for what I hope will be the good of my own health, but for others as well,” he said on his website.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which says fighting abortion is its “preeminent” priority, said last month that getting vaccinated against the coronavirus “ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community,” according to a statement by the chairmen of its Committee on Doctrine and Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Notably, the worldwide leadership of the Roman Catholic Church has noted that the fetal cell lines that were used in the development of one vaccine — AztroZenica — were not newly aborted cells, but were instead clones of cells taken in the 1970s. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed using a different method.
On a global level, the Vatican has issued guidelines largely similar to those from the U.S. bishops, declaring it morally acceptable for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses.
One difference: It didn’t name or give details about specific vaccines. The Vatican plans to use the Pfizer vaccine starting this week for employees and their families, and Pope Francis — in an interview with an Italian broadcaster being aired this weekend — said he has an appointment to be vaccinated.
The Vatican has suggested it is wrong to refuse a vaccine based solely on the abortion objection, since refusal “may also result in a risk to others.”
Nicanor Austriaco, a molecular biologist and Catholic priest who teaches at universities in the U.S. and the Philippines, said the Vatican has appropriately addressed faith-based concerns about vaccines indirectly connected to research that used aborted fetal cells.
“The moral evil being contemplated here” took place in the 1970s when the original cell line was created, Austriaco said, “and it is remote.”
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