Bishops' Conference of England and Wales

English Bishops Clarify Catholic Position on Vaccination

Vital to Protect the Most Vulnerable

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The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales responsible for Healthcare and Life issues have released a paper providing clarity and assurances on the moral issues surrounding vaccination and to encourage Catholics to commit to protecting the most vulnerable in society.

Bishop Paul Mason, Lead Bishop for Healthcare, and Bishop John Sherrington, Lead Bishop for Life Issues, stress the Catholic Church’s support for vaccination to protect the most vulnerable of our society – especially those affected by immunodeficiency, pregnant women and their unborn children.

As research and trials continue in the global search for an effective vaccination to prevent COVID-19, the paper also addresses the development of future vaccines and expresses the hope that the ethical sourcing of a vaccine for COVID-19 is possible.

The bishops make it clear that the Church distinguishes between the unethical sourcing of vaccines in the present day and the use of historical cell-lines which were derived from aborted fetuses in the 1970s. They reiterate the Church’s moral position in opposing the production of vaccines using such tissue and acknowledge the distress many Catholics experience when faced with a choice of not vaccinating their child or seeming to be complicit in abortion.

However, the bishops reiterate Church teaching that “the paramount importance of the health of a child and other vulnerable persons could permit parents to use a vaccine which was in the past developed using these diploid cell lines.”

The paper echoes a note published by the Holy See’s Pontifical Academy for Life in 2017 that states “all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.”

In terms of the development of future vaccines, Bishop John Sherrington wrote to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care in July 2019 urging the Government to promote the future production of vaccines using material from non-human cells or ethically sourced human cells.

The Department of Health and Social Care gave Bishop Sherrington the following assurances:

“As I am sure you will agree, the safety and efficacy of vaccines is extremely important. In cases where it can be proven that they are equally effective and as safe as the original vaccine, manufacturers have introduced alternatives to the human diploid cells. However, this has not been the case for rubella, rabies or hepatitis A vaccines. Please be assured that new human fetal tissue will not be used to make these vaccines. Moreover, the Department is not aware of any new vaccines being produced using human diploid cells.”

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