Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester has entered the new debate among some Catholic leaders on the morality of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, in particular the use of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The new one-dose vaccine, delivered to New Mexico last week, is derived from cell lines from aborted fetuses, while the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines used such fetal cell lines in testing only.
“The FDA approval of the latest COVID-19 single-dose vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson is good news,” Wester said in a statement issued Wednesday. “This is especially so for those in rural parts of New Mexico where the requirement of two doses can be burdensome. Along with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines already in use, this latest vaccine moves us even closer to herd immunity and the protection of human life.”
The archdiocese did not immediately respond to Journal questions as to why Wester issued the statement this week or whether he has himself been vaccinated.
In the statement, Wester acknowledged, “there are some who may be worried that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not ethical.
“I wish to assure all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe that in the current pandemic and given the limited vaccine options available to achieve healing for our nation and our world, it is entirely morally acceptable to receive this one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or either of the other two (Pfizer or Moderna). Indeed, Pope Francis has made it clear that by being vaccinated we are exhibiting a genuine love of our neighbor and a regard for the sanctity of human life.”
When the ethical issues surrounding coronavirus vaccinations surfaced, Pope Francis signed off on a publication in late-December from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that stated that the moral duty to avoid such “passive material cooperation” with abortions isn’t obligatory “if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent – in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.”
“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 the production of vaccines derive.”
Yet, the Archdiocese of New Orleans urged its parishioners to avoid Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, calling it “morally compromised.”
The vaccine formula, however, includes no fetal tissue, but cells originally derived from fetal tissue that can be traced back to the 1980s.
This week, two Catholic bishops from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “again raises questions about the moral permissibility” of the abortion-derived cell lines involved in its production.
Such use is “morally acceptable,” they stated, “However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cells should be chosen.”
Matt Bieber, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health, told the Journal on Thursday that notifications sent to those who have registered for a vaccine through the DOH website will soon indicate which vaccine of the three available is scheduled to be given to the recipient. That new feature is expected to be added to the notifications over the next few days, he added.
“If they choose not to confirm the invitation, they will go back into the pool of eligible users and receive another invitation at a future date,” he said.
Meanwhile, New Mexico isn’t likely to receive any additional Johnson & Johnson vaccines for several weeks, Bieber said, after receiving its first shipment of 17,200 doses this week.