There is "no absolute duty" to boycott any COVID-19 vaccine produced with the help of…
OSV joins other Catholic media outlets to educate the faithful about COVID-19 vaccines
The Google News Initiative announced today that it will fund a consortium of Catholic media companies, news agencies and scientists to provide reliable information about COVID-19 and the vaccines that have been developed to turn back the pandemic.
Our Sunday Visitor is a founding member organization in the consortium, which will be headed up by Aleteia, a worldwide Catholic information network in seven languages, and includes several other Catholic media outlets.
“Correct information is necessary for making the right moral choice. Accurate information will allow the Catholic people to make the right decisions not only for themselves but also for the lives of others,” said Jesús Colina, the editorial director of Aleteia.
In January, the Google News Initiative launched a $3-million open fund for projects providing COVID-19 content to audiences underserved by fact-checking outlets. The Aleteia-led consortium was one of 11 projects selected from more than 309 applicants in 74 countries.
“It is quite impressive that an impartial jury from Google News Initiative understood the importance of the Catholic community in the world, supporting this project,” said Colina, adding that he believes information regarding COVID-19 vaccines “will help to clarify the sacred value of every human life.”
“According to Vatican figures, there are approximately 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world,” Colina said. “We must accept that millions of human lives are at risk if faithful Catholic people do not have the right information.”
Participating agencies will look to correct misinformation about COVID-19, provide fact-checked articles and scientific analyses of issues related to the pandemic, and engage misconceptions and valid concerns that people have about vaccines and other issues related to the novel coronavirus.
“The initiative aims to have voices heard of people like myself who have been taking care of individuals with COVID-19 for a whole year and understand how serious the disease is and how easily it’s spread,” said Dr. Timothy P. Flanigan, a member of the consortium’s scientific committee.
Flanigan, a professor of medicine at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University Division of Infectious Disease, said the initiative is also intended to address the serious questions that Catholics and others have about COVID-19 vaccines.
“Many people belittle those who have doubts and questions about the vaccine, and it is wrong to do that,” Flanigan said. “These vaccines are effective, but they’re also potent. The questions that people have are appropriate.”
In recent months, Church leaders in Rome and across the globe have been releasing statements to inform the Catholic faithful around the myriad ethical and moral dimensions related to the COVID-19 vaccines and their relationship with cell lines derived from fetuses that were possibly aborted decades ago.
The guidance from Pope Francis, Vatican officials and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been that Catholics can receive the vaccines with a clear conscience and that to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is an act of charity toward one’s neighbors.
“Whether you want it or not, the COVID-19 vaccines are the only exit door that science provides for us to leave behind the room of the coronavirus infection,” said Colina, who noted that 2.6 million people across the world have died from the virus, while countless others suffer from the pandemic’s economic and social fallout.
“As Christians, we cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of our brothers and sisters,” Colina said.
However, misinformation about the virus and the vaccines, such as claims that they contain microchips or aborted fetal remains, have been spread by some Church figures and media outlets.
“Some people out there say the vaccine does not decrease transmission of the virus. That is absolutely incorrect,” said Flanigan, who added that the available evidence so far indicates that the vaccines not only prevent COVID-19 infection and illness, but also “dramatically” reduce the risk of transmission.
“People share information without verifying whether it is true or not,” Colina said. “There is a lot of misinformation out there.”
Scott P. Richert, the publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, said he has also seen “quite a bit of misinformation” in Catholic circles regarding the pandemic and vaccines, but emphasized that most people who pass along bad information are not doing so maliciously.
“This vaccine is very much new technology; the number of people who have the scientific background to understand the vaccine and how it has been produced and how it works is relatively small,” Richert said.
“So we have people who come to their conclusions about the vaccine based not on an understanding of the science behind it or an understanding of Catholic teaching about vaccinations and about this vaccine in particular, but who come to their conclusions based on other circumstances, particularly political circumstances or, broadly speaking, cultural circumstances,” Richert added.
The recent controversies over COVID-19 vaccines, Richert added, speak to deeper moral questions.
Said Richert: “It goes to a point that we have been discussing a lot over the last year at Our Sunday Visitor, not just with regard to COVID-19, but the very question of the importance of truth and the importance of Catholic media in supporting the truth and upholding the truth, and combatting falsehoods. To be a Catholic means always to be searching for the truth and to be rooting out the falsehoods in our own lives.”
Along with Flanigan, who has spent much of his career working with HIV and Ebola patients, the consortium’s scientific committee will include more than a dozen medical researchers, bioethicists, health care executives, academics and communications specialists.
Flanigan said his role on the scientific committee will be to “lead and encourage informed, responsible discussion about these vaccines and about COVID-19, always informed by both the science and by our faith.”
“We need to do this, because the public debate in this country is bad when someone immediately says, ‘If you disagree with me, you’re a bad person,'” Flanigan added. “No, this is a complicated matter. People might be concerned about what they are putting in their body. These questions that people have are reasonable and appropriate, and we want to give a voice to this discussion so people can understand better the complexities of the issues and the data that is out there.”
Aleteia will be leading the consortium in collaboration with Verificat, a fact-checking agency, and I Media, a news agency that specializes in information from the Vatican. Along with Our Sunday Visitor, the founding media organizations are Družina, SanFrancesco.org, Religión Digital, Catalunya Religió, El Observador de la Actualidad and La Voz de Córdoba.
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.