Catholics looking to decline one COVID-19 vaccine for another aren’t likely to have that option

Patients don’t get a vaccine menu to order from, governor says

Gov. John Bel Edwards received his COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 9 after emergency personnel were added to the COVID-19 vaccination priority list. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

New Orleans area Catholics may face difficulty in trying to follow vaccination guidance by the Archdiocese of New Orleans to choose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna or Pfizer rather than the new one from Johnson & Johnson, as Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday, vaccination providers aren’t offering patients a menu to order from.

“For the foreseeable future, at least until such point as perhaps the demand doesn’t exceed supply, it isn’t like you’re going to be able to go to a vaccination site and be given a menu and say, ‘I want the Pfizer’ or ‘I want the Moderna’ or ‘I want the Johnson & Johnson,’” Edwards, a devout Catholic,  said at a press conference. “That’s just not going to happen for some period of time.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved for emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration over the weekend and is a significant development in the fight to end the coronavirus pandemic because it only requires one dose and can be stored for up to 3 months in a regular refrigerator.

On Friday the Archdiocese issued a strongly-worded statement linking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to abortion and telling Catholics to avoid the vaccine because it is “morally compromised.” The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not contain any fetal tissue but, like many vaccines, was developed using a line of research cells that originated from fetal cells that can be traced back to abortions several decades ago.

Sarah McDonald, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, wrote in an email Monday that she didn’t know if people seeking a shot would actually have a choice, encouraging the reporter to ask a medical professional.

The statement out of New Orleans made news across the country. It appears that, as of Tuesday afternoon, only the Archdiocese of St. Louis had come out as strongly against the new vaccine. According to the Associated Press, later on Tuesday, the chairmen of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees on doctrine and abortion said Moderna and Pfizer are preferable “if one has the ability to choose a vaccine.”

There is a difference between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two that preceded it, the statement from the Archdiocese of New Orleans says. “[T]hough there was some lab testing that utilized the abortion-derived cell line, the two vaccines currently available from Pfizer and Moderna do not rely on cell lines from abortions in the manufacturing process and therefore can be morally acceptable for Catholics as the connection to abortion is extremely remote.”

Calling the decision to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “one of individual conscience” that should be made “in consultation with one’s healthcare provider,” the archdiocese’s statement concluded, “(W)e advise that if the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than to receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.”

The Bishop Michael Duca of the Diocese of Baton Rouge issued a statement Monday that was different in tone from the one issued in New Orleans. Catholics “should feel free” to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if they cannot “for any reasonable circumstance” find one of the alternatives, according to a statement on Monday.

Edwards said providers will try to inform patients ahead of their appointments of the type of vaccine that will be administered, potentially giving a patient the chance to receive their vaccine of choice by rescheduling their appointment or finding it at a different provider. 

The governor did not give a timeline on when vaccine menus could become a reality. He was scheduled to receive his second vaccine dose Tuesday afternoon.

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