Declining a Vaccine Doesn’t Remove Responsibility
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
As we know, the Church has recently made it clear that Catholics can, in good conscience, receive any of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson). 
It became necessary to address concerns over receiving these vaccines due to their being developed or tested using modern cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue decades ago. 
In that same instruction the Church also stated that the further removed a vaccine is from unethical practices (like abortion) the better. Hence, if given a choice, there’s a preference for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines since they have a lesser connection than the Johnson & Johnson. But without a choice, even the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s connection is remote enough to be morally acceptable, given the seriousness of the pandemic. 
This analysis is based on previous instruction offered by the Vatican regarding vaccines (most notably documents from 2017, 2008 and 2005 — all of which address concerns similar to the present ones). Both the recent and original instruction also note that receiving these vaccines doesn’t equal complicity in, nor approval of, abortion or other unethical practices. (For that to be the case one would have to agree it was good for those evils to have happened, or wanted them to happen, or that receiving a vaccine contributed to them happening, etc.) 
Another notable thing mentioned in those instructions is the possibility of declining a vaccine. 
The Church generally views vaccines as a positive contribution to societal health, especially as a way to limit the harm done by serious illnesses and as a protection for vulnerable people. As such, receiving vaccines is typically seen as a way to contribute to the common good and show concern for our neighbors. 
In a more perfect world, no vaccines would have ties to any unethical practices. In the imperfect world we live in, that clearly is not always the case. Were there to be a vaccine developed that fell outside the limits of moral acceptability, Catholics may have a duty to decline. 
But the Church also recognizes there may be times when a person has other reasons to decline. For example, one may decline if there has been a history of poor reactions to vaccines or an allergy or other medical condition, which makes the reception of a vaccine counterproductive or dangerous. 
The Church also notes that there can be cases when someone objects in conscience to a particular vaccine. Such an objection and subsequent declination would typically require a serious reason — especially if declining an accessible vaccine might put oneself, or others at risk. But those reasons may exist. 
If a vaccine is declined, it may actually increase the diligence needed to ensure that one’s moral responsibility is fulfilled. This is something the Church has also made clear. 
Someone who chooses to decline an available vaccine must take steps to ensure, as far as possible, that they do not become a vehicle for transmitting the dangerous pathogen — whether that’s the SARS-CoV-2 virus or another infectious agent. 
In the current pandemic, that would mean continuing to take precautions like the ones we’re all so familiar with: wearing masks, social distancing, quarantining after exposure, etc. Those in health care may recognize that expectations like these are not new. There are many examples of longstanding policies which require health care employees to get an annual flu shot. 
Declining the flu shot may be possible for serious reasons, but doing so requires additional safety measures be utilized, like mask wearing. 
Even apart from a legal or employer mandate for inoculation, recognizing the potential threat to self or others and taking necessary steps to mitigate that threat will always be a moral duty. For most people this will mean receiving vaccinations (the COVID-19 vaccines or others). 
For those unable to receive them, or who decline them, the serious moral mandate to contribute to the common good and protect others, especially the vulnerable, remains fully intact.