As Catholics, it is an act of love to defend those who are most vulnerable in our community by getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
That was one of the main messages from a recent podcast produced by the Diocese of Parramatta titled Catholic Teaching and the COVID-19 vaccine.
With misinformation online and amongst our communities about the vaccine, during the podcast, three Catholic speakers sought to clarify misconceptions and emphasise the importance of getting vaccinated for the common good.
Bishop Richard Umbers, Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Sydney, Dr Ruella Clipsham, a Catholic doctor and emergency physician with an interest in public health and epidemiology and Graham (Gray) Connolly, a Catholic lawyer and lecturer in commercial and public law matters, answered a range of questions that were submitted by members of the faithful in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
The safety, effectiveness and necessity of the vaccine
Having worked on the frontline throughout the pandemic at a southern Sydney hospital, Dr Ruella was asked about scientific evidence surrounding the safety, effectiveness and necessity of the COVID vaccine.
Dr Ruella stressed that the COVID-19 vaccine is not a “trial medication”, it has been fully approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). She added that whilst the approval has been fast-tracked and streamlined, no shortcuts have been taken.
She explained that the vaccine is necessary as there is evidence showing that COVID is a dangerous disease, and the Delta variant is five to eight times more infectious than the original variant. She said that the increase of case numbers over recent months shows how infectious the variant is and that the measures we have in place across NSW and other parts of Australia are not sufficient to contain the outbreaks.
The vaccine has proven its effectiveness in the data as well as in the real-world application nationally and internationally, Dr Ruella said.
In terms of the vaccine’s safety, Dr Ruella explained that with all medicine there is a risk, but the risk is weighed up against the overall benefits. All vaccines, she said, are given a robust surveillance mechanism where a baseline of each illness is measured and whenever more of something that is expected is seen, it prompts an investigation, which is how the rare issues with the vaccine were detected.
Getting vaccinated is an “act of solidarity” with your community
Bishop Umbers was asked how the Catholic Church can amplify the messaging from Pope Francis and the Vatican that endorse the vaccine among those who are “anti-vax”.
“We need to be focussing on the common good,” Bishop Umbers explained. “Only together is it possible to obtain the common good.
“We don’t find fulfilment just looking after ourselves, we need to be always looking to the fact that we live with others and for others. That means all of us seeking other people’s good as if it is our own – this is the Gospel.
“Our autonomy is relational, not something that is radical, and all of us [have] a responsibility not to put others at risk of serious illness, and that responsibility is lived out in different ways, but most especially in getting vaccinated on the advice of your doctor,” he said.
In his view, Gray said that it is terrible for Catholics to take on a notion that “everything is about me”.
“As Catholics, you have duties to the common good, and I think that’s a good part of the Catholic tradition – we talk in a more communitarian language about duties owed to us not rights asserted by me.
“It’s a very small thing that you’re being asked to do…when you’re getting vaccinated, you’re not just protecting yourself, you’re protecting other people, you’re protecting other people who can’t be vaccinated themselves.
“One of the things about vaccinations, as the Pope said in his message, getting vaccinated is not just about you, it’s an act of solidarity and because herd immunity is a form of solidarity, in a sense, for the community.
“We’ve got vaccines, thank God we’ve got vaccines, not just for COVID but for a variety of other diseases…we should be thankful for the fact that we have intellects, we have researchers, we have doctors, we have people who know things about how we get sick and how we can not just be cured of that but prevent a disease from spreading,” he said.
Drawing good out of evil
Dr Ruella mentioned that some Catholics may be opposed to the COVID vaccination due to the historical foetal cell line that is used in the development of the vaccine. She explained that foetal cell lines are used in a lot of modern medicine and that some of the non-vaccine “alternatives” like ivermectin use foetal cell lines in their testing as well.
“I understand that there is a concern about the use of foetal cells, however, the abortions aren’t ongoing. You can’t say that because this is evil, I will therefore not partake in it at all, because then you would essentially be washing your hands of all modern medicine.”
Bishop Umbers added, “St Thomas Aquinas speaks to that in the Summa Theologica, where wrong has been done, but then down the track, even God has been able to draw good out of evil.
“There is a distinction between formal and material cooperation. There will be issues in which we wish to take a stance, and we want to say something, and that’s fine, but to live in this world, we cooperate with all matter of things all the time.
“In this particular instance, whilst we can certainly ask for a more ethical line and promote the ethical line, we do all of that, but having done that, this is what’s available.
“What we should be doing is drowning evil in the abundance of good and looking to see how are we promoting the good, how are we getting together with others to ensure that we are creating a just society, a civilisation of love,” he said.
Mandating teachers be vaccinated still an unknown
When asked for a legal perspective on whether teachers working in Catholic schools may have their employment terminated if they refuse to be vaccinated, Gray explained that because neither the federal nor state governments have issued information for this particular industry (including the public health order), compared to the aged care and health care industries, it is still a grey area.
As a general rule, he explains, an employee should follow the lawful and reasonable directions of their employee, and in certain places, a vaccination regime that is mandatory, will be found to be reasonable in certain areas but it will be on a case by case and industry by industry basis.
Based off recent legal cases, Gray said that it has been seen that employers have a duty to provide a safe workplace for employees, but also for the clients that they interact with. For schools, this may mean that it won’t be just the rights of people to reject being vaccinated, but the rights of those who are vaccinated or those who cannot be vaccinated to being protected from people who are deliberately unvaccinated.
In his view, Gray said that it is lawful and reasonable for employers to require people to be vaccinated and the onus will be on people who don’t want to be vaccinated to explain the basis of their objection and then it will be up to employee-employer to explore whether the objection can be sustainable and reasonably accommodated and to stay employed. He said it will be very hard for people who are not vaccinated working in certain areas to sustain a reasonable excuse to not being vaccinated where being vaccinated is so essential to the work being done.
In their concluding remarks, the panellist reinforced getting vaccinated for the common good, having a duty of solidary to each other and that there is large evidence of the benefits of the vaccine outweighing the potential risks.
“Keep praying for an end to the pandemic, and choose your favourite saint, or a saint to pray to during these times,” Bishop Umbers concluded.
You can re-watch the ‘Catholic Teaching and the COVID-19 Vaccine’ podcast here.
Information on the Catholic Church’s position on the COVID-19 vaccine can be downloaded for sharing at https://parracatholic.org/covid19/
All information featured in the podcast is provided to the general public for general informational purposes only. This information is not intended to be substituted for professional medical or legal advice. This information should not be relied upon as legal or medical advice. You should consult your doctor, health professional, or legal professional for specific advice.