When a vaccine is available to treat or prevent COVID-19, it is OK to take it.

That’s the message from the bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories in a pastoral letter to the faithful as they navigate for Catholics a path through a moral dilemma presented by COVID-19 vaccine development. 

While many of the possible vaccines are synthetic and have no relationship to abortion in their production, several contenders were developed using cell lines descended from cells originally derived from aborted fetuses or embryonic stem cells. 

The bishops reiterate Church support and encouragement of scientific research into COVID-19, and have decided openly to address the question of possible moral complicity of Catholics in the previous act of abortion. Even if a vaccine is sourced from cell lines distantly derived from aborted human fetuses, which is an evil act according to Catholic teaching, the bishops say taking that vaccine is morally permissible given the remoteness of the recipient from the original act of abortion, the scarcity of ethical alternatives, and the grave threat that COVID-19 poses to public health. 

While physicians and families should seek out ethical vaccines, the bishops say that use of previous cell lines is so prevalent in research that there may not be an ethical alternative accessible during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Making use of abortion to create cell lines for research and development is an affront to human dignity and cannot be morally justified,” the bishops write. “Sadly, such cell lines are so widely used in the biopharmaceutical industry that a vaccine that has not been ethically compromised in its production and/or testing by their use may very well not be available for employment against COVID-19.  

“With respect to someone simply receiving the vaccine, the degree of connection with the original evil act is so remote that, when there also exists a proportionately grave reason for vaccination, such as the current, urgent need to halt the COVID-19 pandemic, then the Church assures us that it is morally permissible for Catholics to receive it for the good of personal and public health.”

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