There is nothing quite as soul crushing as reading a thread on Facebook or social media regarding vaccinations, especially when well-intentioned but seriously misinformed Catholic parents express their outright refusal to vaccinate their children. This anti-vaccination fervor has been sparked by long-discredited studies as well as well as celebrities of shall we say less than dubious credentials.
Not all opposition to vaccination is based on groundless fears about autism or other health issues. Some Catholics also have concerns about the nature of vaccine research and the possibility that vaccines contain aborted fetal tissues. The Rational Catholic discussed this topic, and puts to rest some of the myths surrounding this line of attack, and he quotes from the National Catholic Bioethics Center:
Parents may vaccinate their children because by doing so, they are not involved in any illicit form of cooperation with the original abortion. Many Catholic experts concur that cooperation today is not really possible in an event that was over and done with many years ago. Because the abortion occurred long ago, and for reasons completely unrelated to vaccines, it is untenable to conclude that vaccine recipients today somehow cooperate in the original abortive event. Moreover, there is no ongoing use of recently aborted material for vaccine preparation; the lines obtained 30 or 40 years ago are the only abortion-derived lines being used currently for vaccine production. In sum, then, by vaccinating their children, parents do not illicitly cooperate in evil, nor otherwise engage in wrongdoing. If pharmaceutical companies or other agencies derive fetal cell lines from elective abortions, those companies or agencies, not the parents, are guilty of immoral cooperation in the evil of abortion.
The Rational Catholic has another pair of posts that delve deeper into vaccines, and goes so far as to argue that not can Catholic parents vaccinate their children, they have a moral obligation to do so. Again, quoting from the Catholic Bioethics Center:
Focusing in on your central question, there is indeed a moral duty to immunize one’s child and so help preserve the public good through the use of scientifically established and clearly beneficial programs of vaccination. The chickenpox vaccine may be an exception to this rule, as the risks resulting from this disease are not great. As for the rest, for example, measles, mumps, and rubella, these are important childhood vaccinations and parents have a special duty to care for and love their children. Children cannot make these decisions for themselves and so depend upon the prudential judgments of others.
Unfounded fears about possible adverse effects do not overcome the objective duty to make use of immunizations. To make a sound moral judgment, the individual Catholic must properly inform his or her conscience. That means that one must seek to determine whether fears are based in reason and fact, or they are instead merely — if I may put it this way — superstitions. A correctly formed conscience will come to the conclusion that immunization is a moral obligation.
For those who remain “invincibly ignorant,” and who refuse to acknowledge facts, they must follow their conscience even though it is ill formed.
Of course not everyone will be convinced on this issue, no matter what evidence is out before them. But hopefully all parents – Catholic or no – will at least mediate on the potential harm they are doing to their children and other people’s children by refusing to vaccinate them.