COVID Vaccine Redux – 2023-24 Season

As expected the FDA has now approved updated COVID vaccines, all of which are reformulated to target the newest COVID variant (XBB.1.5).

We are certainly in a different place now that we were in when we published our thoughts on COVID vaccines in the Fall of 2021 and Winter/Spring of 2022. The pandemic phase of COVID is officially over (as of May 11, 2023) and we are not, at the moment, talking about vaccine mandates.

However, we are not in a different place when it comes to the moral issue associated with COVID vaccine production and testing.

There are currently three FDA-approved vaccines, including from: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and (most recently) Novavax. While each of these have been updated to target the current COVID variant, their methods of production remain the same. Pfizer and Modera are still mRNA-based technology while Novavax is protein-based. All three have in common their viral target (the so-called “spike protein”).

USA Today has a good overview of these three vaccines. The bottom line is that they are likely to be equally effective and have similar side effect profiles.

From a moral compromise standpoint, the Charlotte Lozier Institute provides a good overview here (PDF). Based on their schema, they are all equal from moral standpoint. All three avoid the use of abortion-derived cell lines in the Design/Development and Production phases while using HEK293 cells in the Confirmatory Lab Testing phase.

On a related note, there was discussion in 2021 that Pfizer may produce an influenza and/or RSV vaccines using mRNA technology, though this has not yet come to be, though stay tuned. Keep in mind that some of the discomfort “out there” with the mRNA vaccines has to do with their newness (and so lack of long-term safety data), some with the use of HEK293 cells, and some from other considerations. If/When mRNA-based influenza and/or RSV (or other) vaccines come to market, their moral status will need to be considered one-by-one.

We should also keep in mind that vaccines are not the only places in which one finds abortion-derived fetal cells…

An additional, excellent, resource for vaccine-related ethical questions is the NCBC’s Vaccine Resources.

CMA Files Amicus Brief Opposing Vaccine Mandate

Catholic Medical Association Files Amicus Brief to Protect New York Health Care Workers from Discriminatory Vaccine Mandate

Philadelphia, PA-March 21, 2022- Catholic Medical Association has taken action against the State of New York, filing an amicus brief to protect health care workers from a discriminatory vaccine mandate.

The brief was filed on March 18th by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of CMA after New York removed religious exemptions from its original mandate.

“The right to conscience is critical to ensuring dignified health care, this principle must also extend to health care professionals when choosing to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or not,” said Craig Treptow, M.D., President of CMA.

“As we have said in our previous statement on this matter, as an organization, CMA opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment without conscience or religious exemptions,” added Dr. Treptow.

In part, CMA states in it’s amicus brief:

As part of its work, CMA advocates for the right of its members to obey their conscience and Catholic teaching in their medical work. While CMA members share diverse views on the COVID-19 vaccine and its ethical application, CMA believes that members should decide this issue for themselves. So, CMA opposes discriminatory laws—like New York’s health- care worker mandate—that coerce its members to make healthcare decisions over their sincere religious objections. This brief shows the religious discrimination that CMA members have faced in New York, the human cost of this discrimination, and how it has severely weakened New York’s healthcare system.

“Health care workers, like every other member of the American workforce, are free to live and work according to their religious beliefs. Yet by removing the religious exemption to its vaccine mandate, the state of New York is discriminating against people of faith—firing many skilled medical professionals and vindictively barring them and their families from unemployment benefits,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy, John Bursch. CMA and Alliance Defending Freedom urge The Supreme Court to hear this case to protect New York health care workers and the state’s entire health care system.

The Catholic Medical Association is a national, physician-led community of 2,400 healthcare professionals consisting of 115 local guilds. CMA’s mission is to inform, organize, and inspire its members, in steadfast fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church, to uphold the principles of the Catholic faith in the science and practice of medicine.

Jill Blumenfeld

Religious Exemptions

Today Governor Hochul said this: ‘There are not legitimate religious exemptions because the leaders of all the organized religions I have said There’s no legitimate reason and we are going to win that in court in a matter of days.

While it is true that the Pope has endorsed the currently available vaccines, the Governor’s statement is misleading, at least as far as the Catholic Church Teaching is concerned.

While we certainly respect the Pope’s stance and encourage vaccination, it is not true that Church Teaching is unequivocally in support of those currently available.

Update – Vaccine Religious Exemptions

Now that that Judge Hurd has temporarily stayed the NY ban on religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care professionals, we understand there has been a flurry of such requests locally. We also understand that many have been granted (though we do not know how many total or what percentage).

Our recommendations regarding how to go about requesting a religious exemption are here. If you have any questions you can contact us. We also recommend that you speak with a trusted priest who can help guide you in thinking through this difficult issue.

We recognize that this is a challenging time in many ways. Please know that we are praying for everyone who is struggling, whether with the pandemic generally, the vaccine mandate, or anything else! Always remember that we have recourse to our Lord though the Saints and most especially the Blessed Virgin Mary!

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, Pray for Us!

Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted, Pray for Us!

Ready for the next vaccine controversy?

We can only imagine that the next Pfizer and BioNTech mRNA vaccine, this time for influenza (and RSV…and likely many, many more to come), is likely to have the same ties to morally tainted cell lines as their COVID-19 vaccine.

We hope that, at worst, the new Pfizer and BioNTech’s mRNA influenza vaccines will, like COVID-19 vaccine, utilize morally compromised cell lines only in the confirmatory lab testing phase, and not in Design & Development or Production. Regardless, this is the time for each of us make our voices heard. Please reach out in writing and/or by phone to any and all of the groups listed below to let them know that morally-acceptable vaccines, in addition to be the right thing to do, will be the most commercially successful as well!

Remember…while the Holy Father, through the CDF, and our Bishops (along with others) have been clear that while we are able to accept the currently-available COVID-19 vaccines with a clear conscience, we are also obligated to both avoid scandal and advocate for the development of vaccines that are developed in morally acceptable ways. The advocacy can take many forms, including…

  • Donating to organizations that are developing such vaccines, including the JP2 Medical Research Institute
  • Thanking companies that are developing morally acceptable vaccines including Sanofi Pasture (Human Life Action provides a convenient contact template for Sanofi specifically) and urging them, if they were to create future morally acceptable vaccines.
  • Urging companies that are almost there with COVID-19 vaccine to switch utilize fully morally acceptable vaccine development processes in the future. You can contact Pfizer here and Moderna here.
  • The USCCB has sample letters to vaccine-producing companies urging them to produce morally acceptable vaccines
  • Charitably admonishing companies that are not almost there (i.e., developing very morally problematic vaccines) to change course. AstraZeneca is the company closest to getting a severely morally problematic vaccine approved and can be contacted here.

Religious Exemption to Vaccine Mandate

The issue of religious exemptions to the COVID vaccine mandate continues to evolve and, in all honesty, remains quite confusing.

The U of R has announced that they WILL now consider religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate (details below), though we have been unable to confirm that NY State has reinstated the possibility of such exemptions, which were recently removed.

We understand that the official online form for U of R employees will be available starting on September 7, 2021 and can be found here (url:

We would like to reiterate, in accord with the recent CDF statement, our support for neighbors, friends, and colleagues who in good (and with a well-formed) conscience choose to accept OR decline COVID vaccinations in accordance with Church teaching.

All that being said, here are some details we hope will be helpful for U of R employees who are interested in obtaining a religious objection to COVID vaccination…

The U of R form directs:

In your own words, please provide a written statement in the space below that outlines your genuine and sincere religious belief contrary to the practice of immunization. The statement should specifically describe the religious principles that guide your objection to vaccination and must include the underlined words above. Documentation prepared by a third party to whose views you ascribe will not be acceptable. Please indicate whether you are opposed to all vaccinations and if not, the religious basis that prohibits a particular vaccination, such as the COVID-19 vaccine.

As the document requires each person to put their reasoning in their own words, we will not here provide any verbatim suggestions, rather we will provide general recommendations that you can use to compose your uniquely-worded argument (though if you would like personalized assistance, please contact us!).

Points to consider for inclusion:

  • So long as it is true, be certain to include the exact phrase, “genuine and sincere religious belief” as it relates to your opposition to receiving any of the currently-available COVID vaccines.
  • If there is a COVID vaccine in development that you WOULD accept, such as one developed without the use of cell lines form aborted children, indicating this may lend credibility to your thoughtful refusal of those that are currently available. You can find the vaccines currently underdevelopment that meet this criterion from the Charlotte Lozier Institute or on Fr. Tad’s site.
  • We also recommend that you quote directly from the CDF document: Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, including in particular the opening line of paragraph 5, “At the same time, practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.” Note the use of “must be mandatory.” This is a strong statement and admits of no reasonable variation of interpretation. Please also note that this statement constitutes the official Teaching of the Magisterium and so provides solid ground for a Catholic to form his or her conscience.

We hope that this guidance is helpful. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or criticisms, please know that we encourage you to share them with us!

Religious Exemption…

We received word this evening that the U of R will now be offering the opportunity for staff to request religious exemptions to the COVID vaccination mandate. Stay tuned for more details…