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Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout gets mixed response from Catholic community - Leyla Doss

LEYLA DOSS, HOST: The Johnson & Johsnon vaccine is set to roll out today in New York. It requires just one shot, rather than two. But many Catholics are concerned: the vaccine used cell lines from fetuses aborted decades ago both in testing and production. Other vaccines - like Pfizer and Moderna - only used them in testing. This week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops - a national advisory board - released a statement advising Catholics to avoid taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if possible. But - they have said, it is essential that all Catholics take any vaccine available to them. Still many Catholics are confused.

DOSS: Joining us now to discuss the Catholic community’s response to the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is Professor Christina Traina, an expert in Catholic Ethics and Feminist Theology at Fordham University.

DOSS: Hi Professor Traina, thank you for joining us.

CHRISTINA TRAINA: Thank you for having me.

DOSS: For those who don’t understand what the issue is: Can you explain what the concern is within the Catholic community with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine versus the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine?

TRAINA: Well, both vaccines are okay to use. The idea is that it's a little bit more acceptable to use Pfizer and Moderna because they use fetal cell lines only developing the vaccine, not manufacturing it, whereas Johnson & Johnson uses fetal cell lines in the development and the manufacture of the vaccine.

DOSS: It seems like Catholic Bishops throughout the country are split and giving different directives. Some say Catholics should take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only if no other alternative is available. Some say they shouldn't at all.

And I reached out to the Archdiocese of New York and they said they did not issue a statement and are directing Catholics to the statement from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, a national advisory board, which seems like it’s providing vague language.

Do you think this statement could cause more confusion about vaccines in the Catholic community?

TRAINA: I think that the statement does cause confusion. It doesn't say some things that the Vatican and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops usually do say which is that it is a very morally weighty problem to have these diseases running around in our culture, and that we are morally obligated to do everything that we can to protect ourselves and our neighbours from becoming ill.

DOSS: What’s creating these different responses, in your opinion?

TRAINA: There is a division within the US Catholic Bishops that runs along these lines, some are more supportive of Pope Francis and some are more supportive of the previous Pope, Cardinal Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict the 16th, and Pope John Paul the second.

DOSS: And speaking of the Pope, you know, he has taken the Pfizer vaccine and his leadership said they could fire any leaders, any clergy who refuse to take the Pfizer or Moderna options. But so far the Vatican has taken a similar stance to The Conference. Overall, does it matter what individual Bishops say versus what the Vatican says?

TRAINA: I think what's important to note is that the Vatican and the USCCB have both said, that when it is a matter of health, both public health and personal health, one must very strongly consider taking the vaccine even if one would prefer not to have a vaccine made with foetal cells.

DOSS: On that note, what do you hope that Catholic New Yorkers take from all of this moving forward?

TRAINA: I hope that Catholic New Yorkers who are concerned about using foetal cell lines and vaccines will do two things. One, they will get vaccinated with whatever vaccine is available to them. And two, that they will press vaccine companies, healthcare companies to develop vaccines that don't rely on fetal cell lines. And that is what the Bishops hope they will do too.

DOSS: Professor Traina, Catholic theologist at Fordham University. Thank you for being with us today.

TRAINA: Thank you very much.

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