By Matt Hadro
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for many private employers, drawing criticism from the head of one Catholic health care ministry.
“Coercing individuals into making a medical intervention is unjust,” said Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation and former acting deputy director of the Civil Rights Division of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, in an interview with CNA on Thursday.
“And a vaccine mandate that could cause millions of Americans to lose their jobs, to be excluded from large swathes of civil society – to become, effectively, second-class citizens – seriously undermines the principle of human dignity and the civil rights foundations of America,” he said.
President Biden on Thursday said his administration would require employers with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, or ensure negative COVID-19 tests weekly. The emergency rule is being developed by the Labor Department, Biden said Thursday afternoon.
Those employers must give paid time off to workers to get vaccinated, Biden said, also appealing to entertainment venues to require proof of vaccine from customers.
Biden on Thursday also issued an executive order requiring executive branch federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and mandating the same for federal contractors. Facilities receiving Medicaid or Medicare funding would also have to require the vaccine for staff, the Associated Press reported.
“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free,” Biden said in remarks at the White House on Thursday.
“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us,” he said to unvaccinated Americans.
In his remarks, Biden did not specify if the Labor Department was crafting conscience accommodations for employees opposed to COVID-19 vaccines due to conscience concerns.
The three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have utilized controversial cell lines, drawn from fetal tissue from abortions believed to have been conducted in the 1970s. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna used the controversial cell lines in testing, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used the cell lines in both testing and production.
However, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a December 2020 note, said that use of COVID-19 vaccines with connections to the cell lines is morally permissible, if no ethical option is available.
“The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation” with the abortions “is not obligatory,” the Vatican said, “if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent–in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.”
The congregation went on to state that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”
For those refusing a vaccine “for reasons of conscience,” they must take precautions to avoid transmitting the virus, the Vatican said.
Catholic health care groups have also opposed vaccine mandates, while noting that Catholics have been encouraged to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
The Catholic Medical Association stated, on July 28, that it “opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment without conscience or religious exemptions.”
The National Catholic Bioethics Center also issued a July 2 statement opposing mandated vaccination with any of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States.
“The best ethical decision-making occurs when individuals have sufficient information for discernment and are able to reflect without undue external pressures placed on them,” the center stated.
“Mandates, by their very nature, exert pressure that can be severe if employment or the ability to further one’s education are threatened.”
U.S. bishops have also issued statements on vaccine mandates and conscience exemptions.
Some, such as Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, upheld the decisions of Catholics who declined COVID-19 vaccines out of conscience.
“For those who have discerned to receive one [vaccine], they can be assured that they can do so in good conscience. For those who have discerned not to receive one, they too can do so in good conscience,” Olmsted said in an Aug. 27 letter to Catholics in his diocese.
“What is primary for us as individuals is to form our conscience through the teachings of the Church.”
Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, however, required COVID-19 vaccines for all diocesan employees.
“This is an urgent matter of public health and safety. There is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated, and Pope Francis has repeatedly called this a moral obligation,” he said.
Vaccines and the federal government both have important roles to play in fighting COVID-19, Brown said, while warning against a federal vaccine mandate.
“I know folks that have died and been hospitalized because of COVID-19,” he said. “The disease should be taken seriously.”
“But there are better ways of combatting the virus,” he said, than “coercing Americans into making a medical intervention, and robbing them of the ability to make informed consent to this medical intervention.”