Vaccine Hesitancy and Resistance: Lessons from an Intrareligious Debate
Jason T. Eberl, PhD, Professor of Health Care Ethics and Philosophy and Director of the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University
As the COVID-19 vaccines first became available, questions immediately arose regarding their safety, efficacy, and, for some, their moral liceity. This last concern has been voiced by individuals and groups morally opposed to abortion due to the use of at least one immortalized cell line derived from an aborted fetus in the development or testing of the vaccines. This concern is especially prevalent among Roman Catholics, even though authoritative bodies within the Catholic hierarchy have declared that anyone may receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines in good conscience. This presentation will draw from the presenter's experience publicly engaging--in both print and podcasts--Catholics who object to COVID-19 vaccines or vaccination mandates without robust religious exemptions. Among the lessons learned from this engagement is an understanding of the multiple motivations that Catholic individuals or groups may have in objecting to the vaccines or vaccination mandates, which reflect wider political attitudes common among many Americans, and how to engage effectively in a constructive critique of those motivations. A fulcrum of this debate is the conceptualization of "conscience" and the value of respecting individuals' and religious groups' free exercise of their conscience in the face of an overwhelming public need for compliance with public health measures. The aim of this presentation is to help inform broader reflection regarding how governmental and public health authorities, religious leaders, and academics may better publicly engage vaccine hesitancy and resistance in the next pandemic by illuminating one set of experiences within one religious tradition throughout the current pandemic.