In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, we had no clear idea of how many lives it would take within the first year. Daily, I watch the news bulletins and wait for the latest numbers to be made public; my sense of sadness upon hearing them never dissipates – I am clearly aware that every single number represents the end of a human life, one which can never be repeated, and that sorrow and grief with come in the wake of each of these deaths.
Also in those earlier days, the scientists would speak from time to time about the hope that we might at some point develop an effective vaccine to protect against this brutal virus. I recall wondering if this would indeed happe, if it was really possible – and when it might happen. I knew that there was no guarantee that we would ever have a vaccine – many years after the identification of various other viruses, we still have no vaccine; and so whilst my hope was alive, it was certainly tempered.
Thinking about all of this, I am both astonished and thankful that now, almost a year on, not only do we have several effective vaccines, but some of these are already being rolled out. At the time of writing, NHS England are reporting that somewhere around two million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered. The long term benefits of this will – hopefully – be enormous. Despite the availability of the vaccines, however, we still need to keep to all the other rules and requirements – we still have a long way to go if we want to bring this pandemic to an end.
Despite the concerns of some regarding the ethical perspectives on taking the vaccines, the moral position of the Church has been clearly laid out using authentic moral theology and the decision-making processes leading to the outcomes given have been elaborated well and are available for anyone who wishes to look at them more closely. Hopefully, these will allay any residual concerns.
Commenting in an interview on the question of whether or not to accept the vaccination, Pope Francis commented –
“It’s an ethical choice, because you are playing with health, life, but you are also playing with the lives of others; I’ve signed up. One must do it.. I don’t understand why some say, ‘No, vaccines are dangerous.’ If it is presented by doctors as a thing that can go well, that has no special dangers, why not take it? There is a suicidal denial that I wouldn’t know how to explain.”
Since his remarks were made, both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict have been vaccinated.
If the Church pronounces that there is no moral obstruction to our being vaccinated, and also promotes the necessity of doing so not only for our sake but for the sake of everyone else, then we are obliged to listen. I think we need to be very careful if we are refusing the vaccinations on seemingly moral grounds, and especially if the arguments we base our judgements upon are not grounded either in scientific fact or authentic moral theology. And, as the majority of us are not moral theologians and so are not competent to judge in that area, perhaps the best thing we can do is to be led by the Church, our sure guide in such decisions.