Charles Camosy urges Covid vaccination, and upholds conscience rights

COVID-19 vaccine Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

A Catholic bioethicist has made the case for everyone to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, while also holding that the Church needs to play a central role against the widespread adoption of vaccine mandates. 

“I beg anyone reading this who is not vaccinated to prayerfully consider getting vaccinated,” Dr. Charlie Camosy, an assistant professor of bioethics at Fordham University, wrote in an Aug. 13 opinion piece at Religion News Service.

“Pope Francis is right, in my view, to say that it is a moral obligation, due in part to the duty you have to protect the lives of others — people like Aaron, one of my best friends growing up, who recently died of this terrible disease,” he said. “His son, my godson, is now without his father. This kind of terrible pain is multiplying across the country as the Delta variant spreads.”

Camosy said that he thinks there are “understandable and coherent moral and religious arguments” to decline the COVID-19 vaccine, although he does not believe these arguments are correct. 

“The pharmaceutical companies that have brought the current vaccines to market have used (either in their production or testing) the cloned cells of a baby who was killed via abortion,” said Camosy. “And they obviously did so without her consent.”

Camosy emphasized that Catholic teaching “defends the freedom of conscience and the need for all humans to come to the truth without coercion,” but added that he hopes people come to understand Catholic teaching on vaccinations without having to be coerced, as by a mandate.

Some companies have implemented mandates requiring that their employees be vaccinated as a condition of employment. In some states, the government has mandated that employees in certain sectors be vaccinated against COVID-19. And in certain cities, there is a planned “vaccine passport” system that will limit entrance to restaurants and other locations to those who can prove they received the coronavirus vaccine. 

Additionally, given the country’s history with performing medical experiments on minority groups, Camosy said that he fully understands why people, particularly Black Americans, may be hesitant about getting the vaccine. Camosy noted that the vaccines themselves are still considered to be experimental.

“And in light of their experimental nature, it is by no means surprising that many Black Americans appear to be vaccine hesitant,” said Camosy. “The reasons for this are complex and interwoven, and lack of access still plays a significant role. But a major part of the story was recently articulated by the Black mayor of Boston, Kim Janey, who drew attention to ‘our shared history.’” 

Janey said that she was concerned that communities of color may be disproportionately impacted by a vaccine mandate due to their hesitation to trust the medical field. Boston will mandate that city employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but otherwise does not have any plans for a vaccine passport system for the general public similar to New York City or San Francisco.   

“Communities of color should not be disproportionately prohibited from returning to work, getting an education, shopping for food, or anything else related to the foundational flourishing of the human person because they defer a vaccine,” said Camosy. 

The Church, said Camosy, should work to defend its fundamental teaching and work to oppose vaccine mandates, while “getting on the side of reasonable accommodations.” 

“But we should also join Mayor Janey in continuing the work of increasing equitable vaccine access — especially when it comes to forming strong partnerships with local community groups who are on the ground ramping up vaccination rates,” he said. “And here it is especially important to make churches the center of these kinds of efforts.”

Some pastors of large congregations, particularly in the south, have faced criticism for not promoting vaccinations among their flock. Conversely, the Archdiocese of New York instructed its priests not to provide religious exemptions for the vaccine. 

Rather than coerce people to get vaccinated through mandates, Camosy suggested that “we should also make persuasive appeals to as many people as we possibly can,” and invited people with ethical hesitations to contact him personally. 

“Please know that, though I hope to convince you to protect yourself and others by taking the vaccine, I will also defend the sanctuary of your conscience and insist that you are not coerced,” he said.

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