On Call with Dr. Pepe
Vaccines and the Common Good
One Monday morning in January, I was perusing the New Hampshire Union Leader online and expected to read more dire news about Covid-19 and its impact on our community, nation and world. Then, I saw a ray of sunshine! The headline announced, “Pope Francis plans to get vaccine, calling it an ethical obligation.” The opening paragraph read, “Pope Francis says that he will soon receive a coronavirus vaccination, perhaps as early as next week, while calling the inoculation a duty for everyone.” He was later quoted as saying the vaccine is “a light of hope in this time of darkness.” As if his own personal witness was not enough, the pope went on to say, “If doctors offer it to you as something that can work, that poses no special risk, why not take it? There is a suicidal denialism that I wouldn’t know how to explain, but today you need to take the vaccine.”
Pope Francis’ statement and witness strengthen the position the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took in late 2020, based on long-standing teaching of the Church, that “it is morally acceptable to receive the Covid vaccine to protect yourself and the community.”
I, too, have viewed the Covid-19 vaccine as a ray of hope in the midst of such profound illness and loss. As Catholic Medical Center’s staff continues to provide care to Covid-19 patients, the vaccine provides them with the protection they need. As more and more people are protected, the chance of community spread decreases and our community is safer. Every dose brings us one step closer to the “normal” we have longed to get back to for a year now.
I recognize that many people have concerns that cell lines derived from abortions were used in the production and design of some Covid-19 vaccines - such as AstraZeneca - and in confirmation testing for such vaccines as Pfizer and Moderna. I am also aware that the Vatican has stated repeatedly that, in cases of significant gravity, Catholics may use some vaccines with connections to abortion without incurring moral guilt, while making known their opposition to how these vaccines were manufactured. Covid-19 is an instance of significant gravity not only for ourselves, but for our sisters and brothers. This virus has proven 10 times more deadly than the flu and it has preyed on the most fragile among us. The vaccine is an opportunity for us to promote life and protect the common good.
At the same time, CMC has made clear to state leaders that we only intend to use Covid-19 vaccines that are free of aborted cell lines. We will continue to raise our voice on this issue, consistent with our mission, vision and values. CMC also will take its lead from Pope Francis, who has made clear that “leaders must ensure that vaccines are provided to the poor, the sick and the vulnerable” and thus advocate for those individuals who do not have a voice.
Dr. Joseph Pepe is the president and CEO of CMC Healthcare System: Catholic Medical Center, New England Heart & Vascular Institute, and several subsidiaries. He and his wife reside in Manchester.