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White House: Pope Francis has said there’s a ‘moral obligation’ to get vaccinated

Vaccines Given in Rome Shelters A guest living in a Rome shelter receives his COVID vaccine. / Vatican Media/CNA

President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, saying that Pope Francis has called vaccination a “moral obligation.”

In his remarks on the state of COVID vaccinations on Tuesday, President Biden praised the partnerships between religious groups and community health centers on providing COVID-19 vaccinations.

He called the effort to provide vaccinations “an example of America at its finest,” and added that “they're all meeting what Pope Francis calls the moral obligation - get vaccinated - something which he went on to say can save your life and the lives of others.”

In response to CNA’s inquiry as to the source of Pope Francis’ comments, the White House pointed to the pope’s January television interview where he said that “I believe that, ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine.”

In that interview, Pope Francis called vaccination “an ethical option because it concerns your life but also that of others.”

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However, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) stated in December that vaccination against COVID-19 is not a moral obligation – a statement that was approved by Pope Francis.

“At the same time, practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary,” the CDF said in its “Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines.”

The Vatican went on to emphasize that vaccination against COVID can promote the common good. The CDF said that those who do not receive a COVID-19 vaccine must take the appropriate actions to ensure they would not spread the virus and pose a risk to vulnerable people.

“In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed,” the Vatican stated.

Those refusing a COVID vaccine out of conscience “must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent,” the CDF note said. It added that such persons must avoid the risk of transmitting the virus to “those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also cited the CDF’s note to say there is not a moral obligation to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, in its “answers to key ethical questions about COVID-19 vaccines” published in January.

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The White House in March claimed that Pope Francis “has spoken to the safety and efficacy of all three vaccines.” While Pope Francis had said that everyone must get a COVID-19 vaccine, it was not clear which vaccine he received. Pope Francis had also not praised the efficacy of any specific vaccine.

In its December note, the Vatican CDF stated “We do not intend to judge the safety and efficacy of these vaccines, although ethically relevant and necessary, as this evaluation is the responsibility of biomedical researchers and drug agencies.”

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