If there is a subject that agitates consciences today, it is the question of vaccination against Sars-Cov-2, still called Covid-19. It is everywhere in the news, in conversations, in the details of daily life, and it intrudes into everyone’s lives with commotion and often anguish. There are, of course, reasons for this. However, the absolute and categorical positions that are often widespread, such as that which tends to consider the vaccinated as Judas and those who refuse to do so as martyrs, or vice versa, seem at the very least excessive and sometimes mark an obvious lack of charity.
So, in the face of this general concern, how do we determine the practical conduct that it is up to everyone to adopt?
Objections to the Vaccine
A number of objections are made to anti-Covid-19 vaccines on various counts: scientific, medical, political and social.
Some vaccines, particularly those prepared using the so-called mRNA technique, are criticized for not fulfilling certain usual scientific criteria, namely: too short a development time, the precipitous speed of their marketing, insufficient clinical phases of their testing, neglect in taking into account various side effects, etc. This obviously causes some perplexity as to the soundness of the science behind these vaccines.
We also note that harmful side effects, more or less serious, are not sufficiently taken into account or are poorly evaluated, or even disguised. It is feared that the unknown consequences of vaccination constitute a significant danger, or at least more than what is acknowledged; some laboratories manufacturing a vaccine have also been able to identify shortcomings in other producers ... As health has become a priority in our world, these elements naturally worry even proponents of vaccination.
The political will behind the vaccination campaigns is also criticized. The vaccine is seen as a step towards world domination by more or less hidden powers. The compulsory vaccination for certain categories of people in certain countries is also denounced as violating individual freedom. This raises a sense of unease that is not unfounded either.
Finally, the social consequences of this situation, with the establishment, all over the planet, of a “health pass”, are also pointed out for various reasons involving individual, social or religious freedom. Some rightly point out that the act of vaccination must be voluntary and that it cannot be imposed covertly by segregating those who refuse it. The various means of pressure thus used to push people towards this solution are leading to the growing and understandable exasperation of many.
Vaccination: A Prudential Decision
Are these objections enough to condemn a priori whoever would agree to be vaccinated?
It should be remembered here that, like any concrete human act, being vaccinated is a matter of personal prudence, even family caution if it involves children. That is to say, it is up to each individual to make this decision, according to the light given to him and the precise circumstances in which he finds himself.
Indeed, any human act requires taking into account the moral object, the end and the circumstances - in particular those of time, place and means. However, inevitably, these circumstances vary infinitely according to everyone’s particular situation: each one is thus brought to decide for himself, according to his circumstances and point of view the possible risks to which his action exposes him and those around him.
Admittedly, it is commendable to take advice, to seek help to determine the best procedure to follow. In the end, however, it is the person concerned who can best choose and must make his decision, because it is he who knows his requirements and needs. We may be more or less skillful in the conduct of our lives, but the prudential decision belongs to us.
Let’s take an example: the various kinds of insurance to which we must or may be subject. Some are compulsory, others are voluntary, such as life or health insurance, and it is up to everyone to decide whether or not to take such or such insurance. Another example: that of the smoker. Smoking is a matter of personal prudence, and it is up to each person to acquire or not such a habit, taking into account the risks he runs.
It may happen that some decisions are not the best. Although less good, they are not necessarily bad, and they should then be respected. We also sometimes see people behaving in ways that we think are truly reckless, and we might very well be right about that. After having tried everything to enlighten these people, it is advisable to take a step back from the choice they ultimately make. It will sometimes even happen that errors prove to be useful, providing an opportunity for someone to correct themselves and to progress.
This is just a reminder of elements that are applicable to all moral acts.
From these considerations, it follows that it is up to everyone to decide, according to their prudential discernment, whether or not to be vaccinated. After investigation, reflection, or even consultation with competent persons to assess the objections mentioned above, everyone can freely make their decision, according to their knowledge and appreciation of the circumstances. It is just as abnormal to want to dictate to someone how to behave in this case as it is to want to compel them in matters of insurance, tobacco or even diet.
Finally, it may happen that there is a greater or lesser necessity for us to be vaccinated.
Thus, if it is impossible to approach the dying to confer on them the sacraments without being oneself vaccinated, we should prefer the salvation of our neighbor to our own health or tranquility. The same goes for all those who are obliged in justice, according to their duty of state, to provide for the salvation of their neighbor.
The same reasoning applies for obtaining the temporal or social common good: the soldier who gives his life for the country is bound by duty, the doctor is bound by natural law to treat his patients: such duties may require taking the means necessary for their fulfillment.
Another necessity, that which arises from charity, sometimes requires making sacrifices to ensure the salvation or the good of the neighbor. It does not have the same force as the necessity imposed by justice, but it does exist and concerns every man in regard to his neighbor. However, if a health pass is needed to circulate, it may happen that the obligation to fulfill a duty of charity prompts us to agree to be vaccinated.
It is true that the current conditions may be found to be coercive – an abuse of power – as seen in the pressure applied to be vaccinated. The fear of being under increased surveillance is also not a figment of the imagination. But let us acknowledge that we accept to submit to many pressures and constraints for reasons of justice, charity, common good or spiritual good.
We know that the simple act of using a smartphone, a credit card, surfing the internet or even driving a car puts us under state surveillance at almost all times. Some avoid this monitoring it by giving up using these electronic means. But others either have no choice because of their profession or accept this limitation in the hope of good to be had or accomplished.
It must therefore be concluded that the fact of consenting to be vaccinated against Covid-19 may sometimes be an eminently prudent act, in the moral sense of the term. It is up to everyone to choose whether to do this or not, depending on their circumstances, after having taken the information or advice of people competent in their field.
The Moral Licitude of the Vaccine
However, there remains one objection which may be proposed at this stage: vaccines are prepared or made on cells which allow the cultivation of viruses in the production process. However, as already mentioned, some vaccines are prepared on tissue cultured from cells obtained from abortion. Is it not then absolutely immoral to use such vaccines? And aren’t the best intentions powerless to justify this choice? As St. Paul says, “Let us not do evil so that there may come good.”
Note first that some vaccines that have been marketed do not present this problem, such as Curevac made in Germany. The question therefore does not arise for them, although it is not always possible to get these “clean” vaccines in a particular country.
In the case of vaccines linked to abortion, the moral principles have already been presented, but to make it perhaps clearer and more obvious here, let us reflect. The question is: is it permissible to take advantage of a past abortion by being vaccinated with a product made from such cells?
In other words, is the one who benefits from a past sin committing a sin himself? The answer is given by St. Thomas Aquinas: “It is one thing to consent or concur with someone in wickedness, another thing to use the wickedness of someone for good; for he consents or concurs with another in wickedness to whom it is pleasing that that other person engage in wickedness, and perhaps induces him to it, and this is always a sin; but he uses another’s wickedness who turns this evil that someone does to some good, and in this way God uses the sins of men by eliciting from them some good; hence it is lawful too for a man to use the sin of another for good.” (De Malo, q. XIII, a. 4, ad 17. See also Summa Theologica, II-II, 78, 4).
Here it is question not of an evil which one commits oneself, but of a sin committed by another: and this is why it is first necessary to reprove the past sin and not to consent to its malice.
This reprobation is internal, but it may also be necessary to manifest it externally, especially when it comes to avoiding the scandal that could arise from this use: either scandal towards neighbor, or risk of more or less relativizing the initial sin, out of habit or out of self-interest.
We must then make it clear that we do not consent to the sin from which we profit: this is why we will be careful to act only for a “proportionate” reason.
This means that the more serious and scandalous the past sin, the more important must be the reason to benefit from it; likewise, the closer this sin is to its good effect, that is, the more influence it has on this effect, the more one must demand a serious cause.
In the present case, it should be remembered that, while abortion is a particularly heinous crime – which certainly involves the risk of scandal – it does, however, allow the manufacture of vaccines only indirectly and very remotely. The existence of a reasonable motive for consenting to be vaccinated is therefore possible: for example, the inevitable loss of one’s professional activity or social responsibilities, the need to visit an elderly person to support him and not to leave him alone…
Thus, when there is a valid reason proportionate to the possible dangers, it is not immoral to be vaccinated with a product which has been prepared or tested with the above-mentioned fetal cells.
Vaccination against Covid-19 remains a thorny and debated issue. Many complex theories collide, and seeing things clearly is not easy. The unknowns around it, the pressures and the political issues only add to the difficulty. Especially since we cannot overlook the very real fact that Covid does exist and it claims victims.
However, since receiving the vaccination is an individual choice and a matter of personal prudence, it is important not to make it a dogmatic or theological question. Everyone should be left to his own prudence, and charity should be the law which regulates exchanges on this question, as on any other.
Let each apply himself to enlightening his judgment with whatever help he may obtain, and in the first place in the supernatural order, by prayer and recourse to the Holy Ghost.
This will allow him to take his responsibilities before God and thus make up his own mind in complete freedom.
Further, his neighbor should have at heart to respect this choice and to tolerate a decision other than his own, whether it is to be vaccinated or not.
Father A. Sélégny +