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Erika RasmussenSeptember 10, 2020
(CNS Illustration/Dado Ruvic, Reuters)(CNS Illustration/Dado Ruvic, Reuters)

Catholic social teaching can have a role to play in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly as researchers grow closer to a possible vaccine. Mary Haddad, R.S.M., president and C.E.O. of the Catholic Health Association, told America by email that Catholic social teaching is the foundation of Catholic health care, guiding all of its work and inspiring its advocacy on the development and distribution of a vaccine.

“First and foremost, we believe that health care is a basic human right,” Sister Haddad said. “Secondly, ensuring that everyone has access to the vaccine is essential for achieving community-wide immunity.

“One area that will likely be controversial is whether undocumented immigrants should be given less priority or even excluded because of their immigration status,” Sister Haddad told America. It is our belief that all people regardless of immigration status—whether they be refugees or asylum seekers held in immigration centers—must be included in each priority population group.”

The association released a statement on Sept. 8 in response to a draft of the Preliminary Framework for Equitable Allocation of Covid-19 Vaccine, released in September by a special committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The C.H.A. statement describes the wisdom that Catholic teaching on human dignity, the common good and preferential care for the vulnerable can bring to impending decisions on the development and distribution of a vaccine.

Sister Mary Haddad on coronavirus vaccine: “All people regardless of immigration status—whether they be refugees or asylum seekers held in immigration centers—must be included in each priority population group.”

“Our members will play a critical role in helping ensure the vaccine is distributed equitably in the communities they serve,” Sister Haddad said. “And of course, C.H.A. and our members will continue to draw attention to the need to ensure it is distributed in a manner that respects human dignity, prioritizes those most at risk and addresses health inequities.”

The C.H.A.’s statement emphasized that all people who are physically able to be vaccinated have the obligation to do so to protect others, especially those most at risk from the coronavirus or whose health conditions mean they are unable to be vaccinated themselves.

In late July, the association released a statement on Catholic principles for developing and allocating a future vaccine for the common good. The C.H.A.’s latest statement endorsed the principles set out by the National Academies to guide the equitable allocation of vaccines and the equal treatment of all persons, regardless of quality of life, in vaccination campaigns; it also echoed the Academies’ insistence that all people in the United States have access to a coronavirus vaccine, regardless of immigration, economic or insurance status. The C.H.A. also expressed support for alleviating health care inequities in the United States, noting higher rates of infection and death in some communities—especially among people of color. According to the C.H.A., the federal government should accept the costs of administering coronavirus vaccines so that all U.S. residents can receive one.

The C.H.A. statement followed comments from Pope Francis during his weekly general audience on Sept. 9, which promoted the common good as paramount in developing a vaccine. “A virus that does not recognize barriers, borders or cultural or political distinctions must be faced with a love without barriers, borders or distinction,” Pope Francis said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2018 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services names five normative principles that guide the church’s healing ministry and response to systemic challenges in health care: commitments to promote and defend human dignity, to ensure adequate health care for the poor, to contribute to the common good, to exercise responsible stewardship of available health care resources and to deny requests for medical procedures deemed morally wrong in the church.

Members of the U.S.C.C.B. and other religious, medical and political organizations wrote a letter to the federal Food and Drug Administration in April urging U.S. leaders, including F.D.A. commissioner Stephen Hahn, President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, to ensure Americans’ access to ethical vaccines by incentivizing pharmaceutical companies to use cell lines and processes “free from any connection to abortion.”

[Read this next: Who goes first? The ethics of distributing a Covid-19 vaccine.]

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