We hear a lot about the Catholic Church and vaccines.
Maybe it is because Pope Francis led a polio vaccine campaign when he visited Mexico.
Or because Pope Francis thanked members of the Rotary International during an Audience at the Vatican, where the Pope “emphasized the importance of vaccinations against polio and urged Rotary to continue.”
History of the Catholic Church and Vaccines
Pope Francis isn’t the first Pope to promote vaccination.
Way back in the early 1800s, Pope Pius VII said the smallpox vaccine was “a precious discovery which ought to be a new motive for human gratitude to Omnipotence.”
But wasn’t there an anti-vaccine pope too?
Some claimed that Pope Leo XII had said that “Whoever allows himself to be vaccinated ceases to be a child of God. Smallpox is a judgment of God, the vaccination is a challenge toward heaven.“
He didn’t say it though – the anti-vax edict from the Pope was imaginary!
There was no anti-vaccine pope.
Endorsement of vaccination by the Catholic Church had started long before the smallpox vaccine. As early as the 1720s, Jesuits were inoculating Indians in the Amazon against smallpox.
Other noteworthy events in the history of the Catholic Church related to vaccines include:
- 1757 – Pope Benedict XIV was inoculated against smallpox
- 1780s – introduction of public vaccinations by the archbishop of Bamberg, Germany
- 1821 – Council of Vaccination
- 1800s – priests routinely led processions of people to get vaccinated against smallpox
- 1862 – Catholic missionaries vaccinated the Quwutsun in the Pacific Northwest
Sean Phillips, in examining the records of the Osler Library, has also found “a story of close cooperation between clergy and the state from the earliest stages of the vaccine in France…” That was important, because when smallpox epidemics were raging, the clergy functioned “as a conduit between the medical community and the majority of cities, towns, and communes in France throughout the nineteenth century.”
Vaccines and Abortion
Of course, one of the main reasons that vaccines and the Catholic Church comes up at all is because of abortion.
What does abortion have to do with vaccines?
While much of what you hear about abortion and vaccines isn’t true, some of it is:
- Vaccines do not contain aborted fetal tissue.
- Some vaccines are made in cell lines that originated from fetuses that were aborted over 40 years ago.
- These vaccines are made in descendent cells from either the WI-38 and MRC-5 cell lines, which have been duplicated over and over again and are grown independently. So, “it is important to note that descendent cells are not the cells of the aborted child.”
- The descendent cells don’t remain in the final vaccine after it has been purified.
It should be clear now why they say that these vaccines are said to have a “distant association with abortion.”
“For its part, Catholic social teaching entails a duty to vaccinate in order to protect the vulnerable.”
Paul J. Carson on Catholic Social Teaching and the Duty to Vaccinate
And why it is said that Catholics are “morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion” and that “it should be obvious that vaccine use in these cases does not contribute directly to the practice of abortion since the reasons for having an abortion are not related to vaccine preparation.”
“Since there is no Catholic teaching that the use of these vaccines is sinful, schools cannot allow Catholic parents to claim a religious exemption from the requirement of immunization.”
National Catholic Bioethics Center on Vaccines and Exemptions Granted by Schools
Catholics can seek an alternative vaccine when available and “register a complaint with the manufacturer of the products as an acceptable form of conscientious objection,” but the The National Catholic Bioethics Center states that “there is no moral obligation to register such a complaint in order to use these vaccines.”
Not only are we morally free to get vaccinated and vaccinate our kids, but the National Catholic Bioethics Center says that parents actually “have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”
And it isn’t just the National Catholic Bioethics Center.
The Pontifical Academy for Life, in collaboration with the “Ufficio per la Pastorale della Salute” of Italian Bishops’ Conference and the “Association of Italian Catholic Doctors,” recently made some clarifications on the medical and scientific nature of vaccination.
“It should be noted that today it is no longer necessary to obtain cells from new voluntary abortions, and that the cell lines on which the vaccines are based in are derived solely from two fetuses originally aborted in the 1960’s. From the clinical point of view, it should also be reiterated that treatment with vaccines, despite the very rare side effects (the events that occur most commonly are mild and due to an immune response to the vaccine itself), is safe and effective.”Pontifical Academy for Life Clarifications on the medical and scientific nature of vaccination
These clarifications update their 2005 statement on the “Moral reflections about vaccines prepared from cells of aborted human fetuses”
“The technical characteristics of the production of the vaccines most commonly used in childhood lead us to exclude that there is a morally relevant cooperation between those who use these vaccines today and the practice of voluntary abortion. Hence, we believe that 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.”Pontifical Academy for Life Clarifications on the medical and scientific nature of vaccination
And again, “the moral responsibility to vaccinate is reiterated in order to avoid serious health risks for children and the general population.”
What to Know About the Catholic Church and Vaccines
From measles to HPV, the Catholic Church recommends that your family be vaccinated and protected.
More About the Catholic Church and Vaccines
- Who Are the Religious Leaders Who Are Against Vaccines?
- Why Are States Eliminating Religious Exemptions for Immunizations?
- Pontifical Academy for Life Clarifications on the medical and scientific nature of vaccination
- The Truth about Vaccines: A response to our critics
- The National Catholic Bioethics Center on the Use of Vaccines
- Vaccines and the Right of Conscience
- Vaccines Originating in Abortion
- You Can Be the Pro-Life Parent of a Fully Vaccinated Child
- A moral obligation to vaccinate
- Getting Vaccine a Moral Responsibility
- Getting Vaccinated Is a Moral Obligation
- Abortion, Autism and Immunization: The Danger of the Plausible Sounding Lie
- Science, Superstition and the Duty to Vaccinate
- Measles, mumps, rubella, oh my
- Human Cell Strains in Vaccine Development
- Sister Renee Mirkes – Cervical Cancer Vaccines
- Catholic Medical Association Position Paper on HPV Immunization
- The Greatest Killer Smallpox in History
- “Aborted fetal tissue” and vaccines: Combining pseudoscience and religion to demonize vaccines
- Antivax Myth: “Vaccines contain aborted fetal tissue”
- Vaccines contain no aborted fetal cells
- Ethically Confronting the Measles Outbreak
- Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers
- Study – What the World’s religions teach, applied to vaccines and immune globulins
- Article – The Church, the State, and Vaccine Policy
- Article – Catholic Social Teaching and the Duty to Vaccinate
- Article – Vaccines and the Right of Conscience
- Pox and the Pulpit: Approaching Catholicism and Smallpox Vaccination through the Osler Library by Sean P. Phillips
- Neglected Tropical Diseases: 21st Century Ancient Afflictions of the Poor and Vulnerable
- Vaccines: Personal Choice Or Moral Responsibility?