During his tenure as NIH director, Collins oversaw the institutes’ collaboration with several pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to develop vaccines for COVID-19. Some Catholics have raised concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines’ remote connection to aborted fetal tissue, using cell lines derived from fetal tissue of babies believed to have been aborted in the 1970s.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use because of the gravity of the pandemic and the vaccines’ remote connection to abortion. If one has the ability to choose a vaccine, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should be chosen due to their not having been produced with the controversial cell lines, as was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the conference said.
Before joining the NIH in 2009, Collins was professor of internal medicine and human genetics at the University of Michigan, leading research that had discovered the genes responsible for diseases such as cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington's disease, and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare form of premature aging.
In 1993, he was appointed director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, overseeing the Human Genome Project, an international collaboration that in 2003 succeeded in sequencing the three billion DNA "letters" in the human genome.
A Virginia native, Collins was homeschooled until age 10 and studied chemistry at the college and graduate level, earning a bachelor's, Ph.D., and later his M.D., after which he was named a Fellow in Human Genetics at Yale Medical School.
Non-religious until age 27, Collins has said that he was previously "very happy with the idea that God did not exist and that he had no interest in me."
Collins converted in part thanks to his reading of C.S. Lewis' classic book Mere Christianity, which lays out a rational case for God's existence. Today, he is outspoken about his Christian faith. He wrote a book in 2006 entitled "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief," in which he describes how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research.
He and his wife in 2007 founded the non-profit BioLogos Foundation, which aims to foster discussion about harmony between science and biblical faith through articles, podcasts, and other media.
Collins is also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, having been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.
Collins was selected as the 2020 recipient of the Templeton Prize, an award recognizing his contributions to insight about religion through his work as a scientist.
Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer. He is based in St. Louis.