Vaccines and the Pandemic of Misinformation
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
Now that COVID-19 vaccinations are well underway, and with estimates that most Americans will be vaccinated by the summer, the end of the pandemic seems nearer. 
Over the last several months, the Vatican, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Illinois Catholic Conference (representing the Illinois bishops), along with groups like The National Catholic Bioethics Center, have unanimously stated that faithful Catholics may receive one of the current vaccines in good conscience.
Nevertheless, in Catholic circles moral questions continue to be raised, and objections to the vaccines made, despite the consistent and straightforward instruction offered by the Church. Why? It seems these objections are coming either from misinformation about how the vaccines are produced (claiming that they’re produced using tissue from an abortion), or from a misunderstanding of the Church’s teaching (that to receive the vaccine is sinful). 
Complicating things further, this misinformation and misunderstanding often coincide, with one fueling the other. When this happens, it can result in a rejection of the Church’s guidance altogether. 
Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why confusion exists. Sadly, sometimes the voices entrusted with speaking publicly on behalf of the Church end up being the same ones responsible for spreading the misinformation or deepening the misunderstanding. It all gets very messy. 
To be blunt, anyone claiming that the current vaccines are produced using tissue from aborted fetuses or that it’s morally wrong for a Catholic to be vaccinated, is either grossly ignorant of how the current vaccines are produced and the Church’s teaching regarding vaccinations or is stubbornly holding onto a false narrative and intentionally misrepresenting what the Church teaches.  
Either way, the confusion caused is dangerous. It’s dangerous spiritually because misrepresenting the truth can lead people into error, not to mention causing needless division among Catholics. It is dangerous practically because it can directly or indirectly put people’s health, or even lives, at risk. 
This second danger highlights a pernicious irony. Those morally opposed to the vaccines generally claim that their objection stems from being pro-life. Yet, potentially putting the health or lives of vulnerable people at risk by refusing to get vaccinated, or instructing others to avoid vaccination, is anything but a pro-life act. In fact, it may simply prove that sometimes opposition to abortion doesn’t equal being authentically pro-life. 
Nevertheless, confronted with these objections, it’s important to note a few things. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna (the only ones currently available) were not developed utilizing fetal cells. In fact, they weren’t produced using human cells of any kind. They are a different kind of vaccine altogether. They simply give your body the instructions it needs to produce the right kind of antibodies. 
That being said, after these vaccines were produced, some of the testing done involved human cell lines which are historically connected to an abortion (or abortions) that happened decades ago. While this fact can make us a little uneasy, and cause us to pause, it doesn’t mean that receiving it today somehow makes us at all complicit with an abortion that happened all those years ago. 
The connection between that past sinful act, and the vaccines actually received today, is so remote that there exists no moral obstacle in receiving them. If such a slight connection did mean we had to refuse them on moral grounds, then we would likewise be compelled to avoid other things, like buying gas, shopping at many stores, and paying taxes, to name a few. 
The Vatican, the USCCB, and other credible Catholic voices, have taken it even further, pointing out that it would require a far greater and more direct connection to abortion, with a less compelling reason to be vaccinated, before a Catholic would need to reject a vaccine on moral grounds. 
Will knowing all this stop the current misinformation from spreading? No, but perhaps knowing these things will help to serve as a vaccine against the current pandemic of misinformation.