The Catholic Church supports vaccination because it helps to protect society's most vulnerable people, bishops in England said Thursday.

In a three-page paper issued July 30, the bishops said they wanted "to provide clarity and assurances to Catholics about Church teaching and moral issues regarding vaccination."

They wrote: "The Catholic Church strongly supports vaccination and regards Catholics as having a prima facie duty to be vaccinated, not only for the sake of their own health but also out of solidarity with others, especially the most vulnerable."  

"We believe that there is a moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others."

The bishops said that the vulnerable included "those affected by immunodeficiency, pregnant women and their unborn children."

The bishops acknowledged the "distress" that Catholics faced when considering whether to allow their children to be given vaccines developed using tissue derived from aborted babies.

They said that the Church was opposed to the production of such vaccines.

"Nevertheless, the Church teaches that the paramount importance of the health of a child and other vulnerable persons could permit parents to use a vaccine which was in the past developed using these diploid cell lines," they wrote.

They cited a 2017 note from the Pontifical Academy for Life, which said that "all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion."

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The bishops said the Church was praying for those seeking to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 673,000 lives worldwide as of July 31.

"We hope that ethical sourcing of such a vaccine is possible," they wrote.

The document was signed by Bishop Paul Mason, lead bishop for healthcare of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, and Bishop John Sherrington, lead bishop for life issues. Mason is Bishop of the Forces and Sherrington is an auxiliary bishop in Westminster diocese.

The paper noted that Sherrington had written to U.K. officials in July 2019 calling on the government "to promote the future production of vaccines using material from non-human cells or ethically sourced human cells."

In response, the Department of Health and Social Care said: "In cases where it can be proven that they are equally effective and as safe as the original vaccine, manufacturers have introduced alternatives to the human diploid cells. However, this has not been the case for rubella, rabies or hepatitis A vaccines."

"Please be assured that new human fetal tissue will not be used to make these vaccines. Moreover, the Department is not aware of any new vaccines being produced using human diploid cells."

The bishops concluded by encouraging Catholics "to commit to protecting the most vulnerable in our society, one method of which is effective vaccination."

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