Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Catholic middle ground on Covid-19 vaccination

I commend to you Catholic philosopher Josh Hochschild’s recent EDIFY video addressing the question “Are Vaccine Mandates Ethical?”  His position is that those who wish to take one of the Covid-19 vaccines can do so in good conscience, but also that vaccination must be voluntary.  As regular readers of this blog know, that is also my own position.  More importantly, it is the teaching of the Church.  I also highly recommend the article “Using Abortion-Derived Vaccines: A Moral Analysis” by Fr. Ezra Sullivan and Fr. Leon Kuriakos Pereira, which appears in the current issue of Nova et Vetera.  It is the most thorough defense of the Church’s teaching on this subject that I am aware of.  It is also a salutary antidote to the fanaticism that has unfortunately taken deep root on both sides of this issue, among those who insist that everyone must refuse to take the vaccine and those who insist that everyone must be required to take it.  Both positions are contrary to reason and charity.  This is a matter about which the individual conscience ought to be at liberty.

Though I’ve commented on this subject before, I want to address each of the main issues one more time in light of the points made by Hochschild, Sullivan, and Pereira and other recent developments.  Governmental authorities and mainstream opinion-makers have massively overreacted to Covid-19, first with gravely unjust and destructive lockdowns and now with demonization and persecution of the unvaccinated.  But it is possible to overreact to the overreaction, and people do that when they shrilly denounce the vaccines as intrinsically evil or more dangerous than the virus itself.  The primary fault here clearly lies with the governmental authorities and media opinion-makers.  But it is absolutely imperative that critics of the mandates keep their heads and not fall into excesses of their own.

In what follow I will first address the excesses of the mandate critics and then turn to those of the authorities and opinion-makers.  Let me warn in advance that I will not approve comments on this post that simply insult those one disagrees with, question people’s motives, or the like.  You can take any position you want to, from condemning the vaccines as intrinsically evil to calling for mandatory vaccination for everyone, but I ask you to do so in a calm, charitable, and civil manner.  If you just want to rant and rave, there are plenty of other places online where you can do that.  The point of this post is to encourage sober thinking about the matter.

Part I: Covid-19 vaccines can be taken in good conscience

Let’s consider the main arguments of those who claim that Catholics are morally obligated to refuse vaccination:

1. Doesn’t the use of fetal cell lines in the development of the vaccines make it immoral to use them?

Some Catholics, including some prominent churchmen and Catholic commentators, have alleged that it is intrinsically wrong for anyone to take the vaccines, on the grounds that they were developed using cell lines derived from fetuses aborted decades ago.  This has led some other Catholics into a crisis of conscience.  They would like to take one of the vaccines – whether because they are concerned about getting Covid-19, or because refusing vaccination might cost them their jobs, their ability to go to school, or the like – but they have been told that they would be sinning gravely if they were to do so.  The churchmen and commentators referred to have insisted that the Catholic faith requires Catholics to “die on the hill” of vaccine resistance, like the early Christian martyrs who refused to sacrifice to pagan gods. 

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that this claim is false and the Church has officially rejected it, so that no Catholic has the right to accuse others of sin for taking the vaccine.  The relevant moral principles are clear, of undeniable orthodoxy, and longstanding in Catholic moral theology.  As St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and the tradition and magisterium of the Church have consistently taught, it is not intrinsically wrong to benefit from a good that has resulted from some past evil action. 

For example, St. Paul famously taught that it is not immoral for Christians to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols.  St. Augustine taught that it is not wrong to benefit from an oath that a pagan swears to false gods.  St. Thomas taught that it is not wrong to borrow from a lender who makes his money through usury.  Something can be good in itself and licit to benefit from even if evil actions were involved in bringing it about.  That a certain piece of meat was involved in the grave sin of idolatry does not somehow make the meat itself, or the eating of it, evil.  That certain money was made by way of usury and is being lent to you in a usurious way does not make the money itself, or the borrowing of it, evil.  Examples can easily be multiplied, such as medical knowledge that was acquired through gravely immoral experiments by Nazi scientists.  That the knowledge was acquired through evil means does not make the knowledge itself, or the use of it, evil.

Something similar could be said of the Covid-19 vaccines and the way they were developed.  For example, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were tested using cells that are very distantly descended from cells that were taken decades ago from a fetus that appears to have been aborted.  But that does not make the vaccines themselves, and the taking of them, evil.  (I developed this point at greater length in an earlier post.)  What St. Thomas teaches applies to the vaccines no less than to the other examples:

It is one thing to consent with someone in wickedness; it is another thing to use the wickedness of someone for good.   For one who approves that another practice wickedness, and who perhaps induces the other to do so, consents with the other in wickedness, and this is always a mortal sin.  But one who turns the evil that another does to some good uses the wickedness of the other for good, and even God in this way uses the sins of human beings and brings some good out of the sins.  And so also it is licit for human beings to use the sin of another for good.  (On Evil, q. XIII, a. 4, ad 17, Regan translation)

Those who are interested in the details of the moral reasoning involved here (such as the relevance of principles concerning double effect, remote material cooperation in wrongdoing, etc.) are urged to consult the article by Frs. Sullivan and Pereira, and also Prof. Roberto De Mattei’s booklet “On the Moral Liceity of the Vaccination.”  (De Mattei’s booklet was for some time available for free download from the publisher, though unfortunately I am not able to find a workable link to that anymore.)  But the relevant moral principles are, again, ancient, and their application to the justification of using vaccines with a very remote connection to past abortions has been endorsed by orthodox Catholic moral theologians for decades. 

The Church herself has officially endorsed this reasoning in at least three documents.  She did so in a 2005 document prepared during the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II, and in a 2008 document issued during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.  The third and most recent document simply applies to the Covid-19 vaccines the principles already applied in the earlier documents to other vaccines remotely connected to past abortions.  As far as I know, most of the people expressing skepticism about the most recent document raised no objections to the earlier ones at the time they appeared, even though the principles are the same. 

The liceity of the Covid-19 vaccines has been affirmed by many prominent orthodox Catholic moral theologians in statements issued by the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the National Catholic Bioethics Center.  It has been affirmed by prominent traditionalist Catholics like De Mattei, Fr. John Hunwicke, Fr. Richard Cipolla, and Fr. Arnaud Sélégny, secretary general of the SSPX.  It has been affirmed by Prof. Josef Seifert and by Prof. Adrian Vermeule, well-known for his defense of Catholic integralism.  It has been affirmed by Archbishop Georg Gänswein and by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI himself.  Of course, none of these individuals is infallible, but that is not the point.  The point is that it would be absurd to suppose that churchmen and thinkers like these – all of whom have longstanding reputations for orthodoxy, for staunch opposition to abortion, and for willingness to take unpopular stands against conventional wisdom – are all somehow selling out to the abortion industry, or to liberalism, or to whatever else Catholic defenders of the liceity of the vaccines are accused of selling out to.  They take the position they do on the Covid-19 vaccines because it simply follows straightforwardly from longstanding principles of orthodox Catholic moral theology.  There’s nothing more to it than that.

Some insist that the sin of abortion is so grave that even the very remote connection the vaccines have with an abortion that occurred decades ago suffices to make use of them illicit.  But the gravity of a sin does not by itself affect the moral reasoning in question.  For example, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says, “considered in itself, idolatry is the greatest of mortal sins.”  And yet St. Paul was nevertheless correct to teach that it is not wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, despite its very close connection with the grave sin of idolatry, and despite writing at a time when the sin of sacrificing meat to idols was (unlike now) still very common.  Of course, St. Paul qualified his teaching by also insisting that Christians avoid causing scandal.  I’ll come back to that issue presently.  The point for the moment is that the gravity of a sin, whether idolatry, abortion, or anything else, does not by itself entail that it is immoral to benefit from something remotely connected to the sin.

2. May a Catholic not disregard the statements of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on this issue, since those statements are not infallible?

Some Catholics who claim that the vaccines are intrinsically evil suppose that they are not obligated to agree with the CDF statements on this issue, on the grounds that those statements are not infallible pronouncements.  Yet these same Catholics rightly reject this rationalization of dissent when modernists deploy it.  As they well know, the Church teaches that Catholics are ordinarily obligated to give “religious assent” even to non-infallible authoritative pronouncements of the magisterium.

It is true that there can be rare cases where the very strong presumption in favor of assent can be overridden, as the CDF instruction Donum Veritatis acknowledges and as I have discussed in detail elsewhere.  But those conditions do not hold in this case.  Some Catholics seem to think that because Pope Francis has made doctrinally problematic statements on other matters (such as capital punishment, and admitting Catholics in adulterous relationships to Holy Communion), they are at liberty to reject the CDF teaching on Covid-19 vaccines.  But this is a fallacious inference, and the cases are in no way parallel.

The trouble with the problematic doctrinal statements in question is that they are ambiguous, that they seem on one reading to conflict with traditional Church teaching, and that the pope has refused to clarify his meaning.  For example, though the pope has never said that capital punishment is intrinsically evil, he has said things that on one reading appear to imply that, and he has not replied to requests explicitly to reaffirm the traditional teaching that capital punishment can at least in principle be licit.  The pope has never explicitly taught that Catholics living in adulterous relationships may receive absolution without firm purpose of amendment and go to Communion, but Amoris Laetitia appears to allow that on one interpretation, and the pope has refused to answer requests for clarification (such as the famous dubia).

The CDF statements on vaccines are not like this at all.  They are perfectly straightforward and unambiguous, were issued precisely in response to requests for clarification, and are consistent with traditional principles of Catholic moral theology and past magisterial teaching. 

Moreover, when Donum Veritatis acknowledges that there can be cases in which magisterial statements are open to criticism, it makes it very clear that these cases are rare, that they have to do only with deficiencies specific to this or that particular statement rather than with a general failure of the magisterium, that any objections must be raised respectfully and with great caution, and that objections cannot be grounded merely in the belief that the truth of the magisterial statement is not certain or that it is not as probable as some contrary view.  Donum Veritatis does not give anyone license simply to dismiss statements from the CDF that one does not agree with, and it does not license churchmen or Catholic commentators to set themselves up as alternative and more reliable sources of moral and doctrinal guidance than the CDF itself is.

Here’s another way to see the point.  If someone says “No Catholic living in an adulterous relationship should go to Holy Communion” or “Capital punishment is not intrinsically evil,” he is not dissenting from anything the pope or the CDF have actually taught (even if, regrettably, the current pope has not clearly reaffirmed these things either).  Indeed, such a person is simply reiterating things that popes and the magisterium have always taught.  By contrast, if someone says “It is intrinsically wrong to take any vaccine having even a remote connection to some past abortion, such as the Covid-19 vaccines,” then he is dissenting from what the magisterium has taught. 

It is understandable that Pope Francis’s failure to do his duty clearly to reaffirm the traditional teaching of the Church on various matters has tempted some Catholics to deny the general reliability of the magisterium.  But the temptation must be resisted.  The pope will have to answer to Christ for causing this temptation, but we will have to answer to Christ if we give in to it.  

3. Don’t we give scandal by using the vaccines, even if the link to abortion is remote?

As I’ve noted, though St. Paul taught that it was not wrong to eat meat offered to idols, he also taught the Christians of his day to avoid doing so where it might scandalize their brethren.  So, by the same token, shouldn’t we avoid taking Covid-19 vaccines even though it is not intrinsically wrong to do so, since taking them could give scandal?

That doesn’t follow, because there is no relevant parallel with the sort of case St. Paul was talking about.  What he had in mind were Christians who did not know that it is not wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, and who, if they were encouraged to eat it, might therefore do something they (mistakenly) believed to be wrong.  And we should never do something we sincerely believe to be wrong, even if we are mistaken in believing this.  In the case of taking Covid-19 vaccines, though, Catholics can be sure that it is not wrong to take them, because the Church herself has authoritatively said so precisely so that the consciences of the faithful can be at peace on the matter. 

But it might still seem that there is another sort of scandal we need to worry about.  For might some people not be led to conclude that Catholics must not be that strongly opposed to abortion after all, if they are willing to use such vaccines?  If they did draw this conclusion, they would be reasoning fallaciously, because the conclusion does not follow.  You might as well say that St. Paul was not really that strongly opposed to idolatry, since he allowed Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols; or that St. Thomas was not really that strongly opposed to usury, since he taught that Christians may borrow money from usurers. 

The Church has also made it clear that Catholics ought to protest the fact that there are any products, whether vaccines or anything else, that have even a remote link to abortion – not because using those products is wrong, but because abortion is wrong.  And thus the Church also teaches that, as a means of protesting, Catholics should use alternative vaccines whenever they are available.

It is important to note, however, that there is nothing special about Covid-19 vaccines in this connection.  Some Catholics have insisted that everyone ought to refuse to use the Covid-19 vaccines, as a means of protesting abortion.  Yet before the pandemic, there was no similarly widespread and passionate outcry against vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and hepatitis – despite the fact that many such vaccines were also developed using cell lines originating with aborted babies, and despite the fact that such vaccines are also widely mandated.  So why the fixation on Covid-19 vaccines, specifically, as if they are somehow uniquely suspect?

This double standard itself threatens to cause scandal.  It gives the impression that the people refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccines in the name of the pro-life cause are arguing in bad faith – that they are less interested in protesting abortion than in finding a useful rhetorical weapon to deploy against the vaccines, which they dislike for other reasons (which might be good reasons, but that’s irrelevant to the present point). 

There is also another potential source of scandal in this fixation on the purportedly evil nature of Covid-19 vaccines.  As De Mattei has recently noted:

Over the centuries the Catholic Church has always fought the deformations of its moral doctrine on both extremes.  On the one hand laxism, meaning the negation of moral absolutes in the name of the primacy of conscience, and on the other rigorism, meaning the tendency to create laws and precepts that Catholic morality does not provide.

As examples of rigorism, he cites the Montanist tendency fanatically to seek out martyrdom even when it was not necessary, and the Donatist attitude of denying the authority of sinful prelates.  The excessive pessimism and austerity of the Jansenists would be another well-known example.  Rigorism is operative whenever a Catholic presents some demanding but optional theological teaching, spiritual practice, or moral principle that he is personally convinced of as if it were binding on all Catholics.  Rigorism is an especially tempting overreaction when the Church and the world have fallen into severe laxism, as is the case today.  But it must be resisted.  As de Mattei says:

Only the Church has the right to define a moral law and its obligatory nature.  Anyone who claims to take the place of the Church’s authorities by imposing non-existent moral norms risks falling into schism and heresy, as has unfortunately already happened in history.

Churchmen and Catholic commentators who insist that all Catholics must refuse vaccination on pain of sin, who maintain that the official judgment of the Church on this matter should be ignored, and who accuse fellow Catholics who disagree with them of traitorous compromise with the enemies of the Faith, are clearly guilty of rigorism in this sense.  Indeed, they are guilty of grave scandal, because such extreme views encourage schism (whether they intend this or not).  Their disgust and dismay at the cowardice, corruption, and heterodoxy of many of the Church’s prelates is perfectly understandable.  But it does not justify setting themselves up as an alternative magisterium. 

4. Aren’t we obligated to refuse vaccination in protest against vaccine mandates, which are a violation of basic rights and therefore intrinsically immoral?

As I say, I am (for reasons I will come to presently) strongly opposed to forcing anyone to take any of the Covid-19 vaccines.  The mandates should end, or where they continue to exist they ought to allow for generous exemptions.  But it is simply not true to say that vaccine mandates are per se a violation of basic rights or otherwise intrinsically immoral.  They are not intrinsically immoral, but lie within the legitimate powers of governing authorities. 

First, it is important to keep in mind that there are many different kinds of vaccine mandates.  Schools have long required vaccination of various kinds (against measles, mumps, and rubella, chickenpox, etc.) as a condition of enrollment.  Military personnel are required to get a variety of vaccinations.  Employers sometimes require certain vaccinations.  And governments too sometimes require them.  Most of the people who are now (rightly) outraged by the Covid-19 vaccination mandates were not similarly outraged by these other longstanding mandatory vaccinations.  Hence the sudden adoption by some of them of the slogan “My body, my choice” is (even apart from this slogan’s association with pro-abortion activism) a bit odd.

As de Mattei has emphasized, these sorts of arguments amount, in any event, to liberal individualist rhetoric, and do not sit well with the emphasis in natural law theory and Catholic social teaching on balancing the rights of the individual and the common good of society.  Governments can, in an emergency, require even military service.  A fortiori, they can in principle impose the far less dangerous requirement of vaccination.  And as de Mattei has also noted, vaccine mandates are not some modern totalitarian novelty but go back a couple of centuries.  Indeed, in the early 19th century the Papal States “instituted a Central Vaccination Committee for inoculation throughout that territory” (On the Moral Liceity of the Vaccination, p. 55).

This emphatically does not mean that just any old policy of mandatory vaccination is defensible, any more than just any old policy of military conscription is defensible.  The current mandates are, in my view, not defensible.  The point is that it simply isn’t correct to condemn the mandates on the grounds that vaccine mandates as such are always wrong.  We should not give bad arguments in defense of a good cause.

But even if it is just this particular mandate that is bad (rather than mandates as such), doesn’t that mean that everyone must refuse to comply?  No, that does not follow.  Suppose you were about to eat a candy bar anyway, and then someone sticks a gun in your face and threatens: “Eat the candy bar, or else!”  You are not now suddenly obligated to refrain from eating it (and thereby to put your life in danger) simply as a protest against this person’s unjust threat.  Or, to take a more realistic example, suppose you tend to get very sick from the flu, or that your employer or school requires a flu shot, and for one or both of these reasons you are inclined to get the shot.  Now suppose that the federal government also decides to require you to get one – not because of any national emergency, but simply because it is playing “nanny state” and thinks it would be a good idea for people to get one.  Are you suddenly morally obligated not to get the shot you otherwise would have taken voluntarily, just because the federal government is overstepping the bounds of its authority?  No.  You may refuse to get it as a way of protesting this, but you are not obligated to do so. 

Similarly, if some people want to refrain from taking a Covid-19 vaccine as a way of protesting the mandate, then more power to them.  But there is no general obligation for Catholics or anyone else to do so.

Nor does the fact that there are risks associated with vaccines by itself entail that any vaccine mandate is per se unjust.  As orthodox Catholic moral theologians Janet Smith and Chris Kaczor wrote in the 2016 edition of their book Life Issues, Medical Choices: Questions and Answers for Catholics:

It is true that all vaccines carry some risk.  However, under current medical regulations, vaccines are utilized in the United States only when benefits to the common good outweigh the risk factors.  Rather than risk the outbreak of a disease that could kill or seriously harm many, individuals are reasonably expected to undergo some personal risk.  In order to reduce risks for the whole community – especially those who are particularly susceptible to harm, such as children too young to be vaccinated and those who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons – it is reasonable and just for otherwise healthy members of the community to submit themselves to the small risks of vaccines. (p. 153)

Note that this passage is from four years before the current pandemic began, so that Smith and Kaczor can hardly be accused of “selling out” to Covid-19 panic peddlers.  They are simply presenting standard, longstanding orthodox Catholic thinking about the subject.

5. But shouldn’t we disbelieve the experts who assure us that the vaccines are safe?

Throughout the pandemic, many medical experts have been guilty of overstatement, dogmatism, and politicization.  The politicians and news media through whom expert advice is filtered to the average citizen have been even worse.  And all of these people have also gotten some things just flat out wrong and made some extremely bad policy decisions.  People are right to be skeptical of glib media reports about what “the science” purportedly says, especially when science is appealed to in support of dire predictions or drastic policy measures.  The fact that there can be reasonable doubt about the claims of experts is one reason Covid-19 vaccination should be voluntary.

But too many people go far beyond reasonable doubt, to an unhinged hermeneutics of suspicion.  Rather than approaching expert opinion tentatively, they will dismiss it altogether.  They rightly reject simplistic pro-vaccine arguments, but then replace them with simplistic anti-vaccine arguments.  They rightly dismiss the Covid-19 “panic porn” by which lockdowns and other foolish measures have been sold, but then peddle anti-vax panic porn.  They forget that the problem with the “cult of expertise” is not the “expertise” part but the “cult” part.  Hence, while they will rightly be skeptical about extreme and dogmatic statements on medical matters when an expert makes them, they will swallow such statements whole when made by a non-expert (such as a favorite political commentator, or some guy in their Facebook or Twitter feed).  Or they rely on experts, but only those whose testimony confirms what they are inclined for political reasons to believe anyway – as if politicization of Covid-19 is bad only when left-wingers do it.

As students of logic know, a fallacy of appeal to authority is committed, not when one relies on expert opinion – it would be insane not to rely on expert opinion where medical matters are concerned – but rather when (a) the authority one relies on lacks genuine expertise in the relevant area, or (b) there is reason to doubt the objectivity of the expert one relies on. 

Now, part of the problem with the way the Covid-19 situation has been handled is precisely that government officials and news media have been committing the fallacy of appeal to authority by dogmatically asserting that “the science” shows this or that when science shows no such thing.  For example, whether lockdowns are a good idea is not merely a question of epidemiology, but also must take into account effects on mental health, effects on our ability to deal with other medical problems, economic impact, potential social unrest, the dangers in setting a precedent of putting such massive power into governments’ hands, and so on.  Epidemiologists as such have no expertise about such things.  Furthermore, even the epidemiological issues are far less clear-cut than many assume, since locking down vast populations of healthy people (as opposed to merely quarantining the sick) is a novel approach based on highly speculative models.  Epidemiologists who support lockdowns are by no means appealing to settled scientific results.  Hence, anyone who flatly asserts that “the science” supports lockdowns is simply talking out of his hat, and guilty of a fallacious appeal to authority.

Vaccine mandates are in my view not as problematic as lockdowns, but, as with lockdowns, the question of whether to impose such a mandate is not a purely medical matter.  Thus, here too it would be fallacious to support a mandate merely on the basis of expert medical opinion.  However, the question of vaccine safety is more or less a purely medical matter, so that expert opinion on that particular question must be taken very seriously.  But experts disagree, so which ones should the non-expert trust?

To avoid a fallacy of appeal to authority here, the best people to look to are those who both possess expertise that is acknowledged by all sides, and also show clear evidence of objectivity.  What would evidence of that be?  It would include things like: not being political appointees or pharmaceutical company spokesmen; not being prone to making extreme or shrill statements or to political partisanship of any kind; exhibiting both the courage to challenge the majority opinion of their peers when they sincerely disagree with it, and the wisdom to do so in a calm and measured way that welcomes counter-argument; and so on. 

In my estimation, experts like John Ioannidis, Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff, and Sunetra Gupta exhibit these virtues.  Now, these experts have famously been critical of lockdowns, and are also opposed to vaccine mandates.  But they also hold that the Covid-19 vaccines have done much good in mitigating the pandemic and are safe for most people and recommended for those who wish to take them, especially the most vulnerable.  So, who should the non-expert believe?  These experts with a proven record of objectivity, and in particular a proven record of being willing to challenge the conventional wisdom on Covid-19?  Or some anti-vax political commentator or Facebook jockey who thinks that he knows better because he spent an evening perusing the VAERS website?  (On the latter subject, I recommend Catholic physician Paul Carson’s recent video “Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe? Understanding VAERS and Vaccine Safety Data.”)

That is by no means to deny that there are (as with many other vaccines and medications) rare but significant potential side effects to Covid-19 vaccines, such as cases of myocarditis in young males who have taken the Moderna vaccine, or fatal blood clots in a very small number of people who have taken the Johnson and Johnson vaccine (9 people out of 16 million).  But that is an argument for making Covid-19 vaccination voluntary and letting people weigh the potential risks and benefits for themselves in light of their own circumstances.  It does not justify churchmen, political commentators, and other non-experts in making shrill and over-the-top statements to the effect that Covid-19 vaccination as such is so dangerous that everyone must refuse it. 

It is especially scandalous when churchmen and other Catholic opinion-makers issue such extreme statements in the name of Catholicism – often in conjunction with half-baked political analyses spawned by what I have elsewhere characterized as “narrative thinking,” a paranoid and woolly-minded style of reasoning that is no more cogent or healthy when engaged in by right-wingers than it is when left-wingers do it. 

Part II: Covid-19 vaccination must be voluntary

So much for the one extreme.  Let’s turn now to the other, about which I can be more brief.  That’s not because the other extreme represents a less serious offense than the first.  On the contrary, in my opinion the pro-mandate fanatics are more at fault, and it is precisely their excesses that have driven some mandate critics to overreact.  The reason I can be brief is that the main argument against the mandate is very straightforward.  It has three steps:

1. There is a strong presumption against mandatory vaccination, which can be overridden only when such vaccination is known to be strictly necessary for the common good.

Catholic moral theology rejects the excesses of liberal individualism, but it also most definitely rejects the opposite extreme of totalitarianism.  Human beings are not herd animals and they are not literally mere cells in a social organism.  They are by nature rational animals, and thus governing authorities are obligated to appeal, as far as they reasonably can, to people’s reason rather than resorting to coercion.  That entails that, as far as reasonably possible, they are obligated to keep compliance with just policies voluntary.

Sometimes that is not reasonably possible.  For example, the Church teaches (as I discussed in an earlier post) that military conscription can be justified when the very survival of a nation depends on it.  But even in that extreme case (as I also there noted) the Church urges authorities to be generous in making exemptions for conscientious objectors, as far as that too is reasonably possible.  A fortiori, that applies to vaccine mandates as well.  Even when they are justified, governmental authorities ought to be as generous as they reasonably can be in allowing for exemptions.

The burden of proof, then, is not on those who oppose some vaccine mandate to show that it is not necessary.  The burden is instead on authorities to show that it is necessary.  Similarly, even when a mandate is justifiable, the burden of proof is not on its critics to defend this or that exemption for conscience or health reasons.  Rather, the burden of proof is on authorities to prove that there should not be such exemptions.

2. In the case of Covid-19 vaccines, governing authorities have not met the burden of proof for overriding the presumption against a mandate.

The first thing to note in defense of this second step of the argument is that Covid-19 is not a grave danger to most people, and certainly not to the young and healthy.  It poses a serious danger mainly to the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions.  To be sure, and as Smith and Kaczor note in the passage quoted earlier, Catholic moral theology allows that mandatory vaccination of all can be justifiable even just to protect some segment of the community.  But it is still justifiable only if it is strictly necessary in order to protect that segment of the community.

Hence it is not good enough for experts and authorities to defend the Covid-19 vaccine mandates merely by pointing out that there are certain benefits of having everyone vaccinated.  What they need to show, specifically, is that a mandate is strictly necessary in order to protect those most vulnerable to the disease.  They need to show that no less draconian policy would suffice.  Furthermore, they also have to show that the costs of a mandate don’t outweigh this benefit (just as, according to Catholic just war doctrine, a war is not justifiable even in a case where the cause is just, if the war is likely to do more harm than good).

That is a pretty high bar.  And I submit that the authorities have not met it.  For example, as Ioannidis notes in the interview linked to above, the idea that mandatory vaccination of children might benefit the elderly is entirely speculative rather than grounded in solid evidence.  Bhattacharya and Gupta note that while the vaccine is very good at mitigating the effects of Covid-19 and thereby making it much less deadly, it is not so good at preventing transmission of the virus.  Kulldorff notes that those who have already had Covid-19 have much greater immunity to future infection than those who have been vaccinated, so that there is little point in vaccinating those who have had it.  Meanwhile, there is, as already noted, some small risk, for some people, from taking the vaccines.

These points suffice to show that mandatory vaccination has not been shown to be necessary for the common good.  And note that some of the stock replies miss the point.  Some have argued that vaccination may give some benefit even to those who have already had the virus.  Some argue that the cases of myocarditis in the young are rare and usually not serious, and that there is also a risk of myocarditis to these same people if they get Covid-19.  And so on.  All of that is well and good, but the problem is that it does nothing to show that it is strictly necessary to force everyone to get vaccinated in order to protect the most vulnerable.  It shows only that there may be some reasons even for those who are not in a high risk group to consider getting vaccinated. 

Then there is the massive downside that the mandates have had.  While forcing children to get vaccinated has not been shown to provide much of a benefit to anyone, preventing unvaccinated children from attending school in person does manifest and significant harm to them.  Firing unvaccinated workers does massive harm to those workers and to their families, and also to society in general insofar as it is had a major ripple effect on the economy.  Firing unvaccinated firemen, police officers, and health care workers does obvious major harm to public safety.  The cruelty of these punishments for non-compliance also hardens people into hostility to vaccination, and thus makes it less likely that they will receive it, rather than more likely.  Meanwhile, the most vulnerable among the unvaccinated – elderly retirees – are unaffected by the mass firings, since they are no longer employed anyway.  Hence the mass firings will not lead them to get vaccinated either.

The mandates have also greatly deepened distrust, and it is dishonest to blame this mainly or even primarily on right-of-center politicians and commentators who have stirred people up against the mandates.  The fault clearly lies with governmental authorities and experts themselves.  First, distrust is inevitable when you force an invasive policy on people without showing that it is necessary.  Second, authorities inflicted massive and lasting damage with the lockdowns, with no proven benefit that could not have been achieved in a less draconian way.  They can hardly expect people to trust them to know what they are doing when they implement a second draconian policy.  The authorities also show little sense of balance or proportion, fixating on Covid-19 policy without sensitivity to the costs of those policies or the need to weigh pandemic-related problems against other and no less serious issues.  The Australian quarantine camps are the latest example, an overreaction to the pandemic so insane that it would be the stuff of satire if it was not so chilling.

Third, many governing authorities have in other contexts proven that they cannot be trusted to look after the interests of their citizens, as when they tolerate looting and rioting and call to defund the police.  They can hardly be surprised when people don’t believe what they say about vaccines.  Many medical experts too have proven themselves to be driven by shrill and simplistic political ideology rather than dispassionate scientific investigation.  Fourth, when you oppose the free exchange of ideas on the subject of vaccines – like Big Tech companies which censor dissenting views, or this fanatic in the Australian government who mocks appeals for persuasion and dismisses any opposition to mandates as “anti-vax” – you are inevitably going to increase skepticism rather than lessen it. 

Fifth, in some cases, pro-mandate fanaticism has now reached disturbingly extreme proportions.  Some support refusing medical treatment to the unvaccinated.  Austria has imposed discriminatory lockdowns on the unvaccinated and will next impose heavy fines on them.  Other countries have imposed other discriminatory policies.  The polarization and mutual hatred that already poison contemporary politics are only massively exacerbated by such measures. 

Since Covid-19 vaccine mandates have not been shown to be necessary for the common good and have inflicted manifest grave harms, the second premise of my argument is clearly correct – governing authorities have not met the burden of proof for overriding the presumption against imposing a mandate.  And together with the first premise, that gives us my conclusion:

3. Covid-19 vaccination should be voluntary, and existing mandates should end.

This is, of course, in line with the other half of the Church’s teaching about vaccination, which is (in the words of the recent CDF document) that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and… therefore, it must be voluntary.”  Most Catholic bishops and commentators have firmly upheld the moral liceity of the vaccines, and they are right to do so.  But they should also firmly uphold the Church’s judgment that in the case of the Covid-19 vaccines, vaccination should be kept voluntary.  They should criticize both those who condemn the vaccination as intrinsically immoral, and those who want to force the vaccine on everyone and who demonize the unvaccinated.  They should staunchly uphold both halves of the sober, middle ground Catholic position on the subject.

Part III: Rope-a-dope

Notwithstanding my condemnation of the mandates, I recently insisted that this is not the hill for Catholics to die on.  Some readers got very angry with me for saying that, but I stand by it.  What I meant by it should have been clear to anyone who actually read the post itself (rather than just reading the title and instantly hyperventilating), but let me repeat it here.

As I have argued, it is not wrong the take the vaccine, and even the mandates are not intrinsically evil but rather amount to the lesser offense of being seriously unwise and unjust exercises in prudential judgment on the part of governing authorities.  So, while the mandates should be opposed, the situation is not (contrary to the melodramatic rhetoric of some churchmen and Catholic commentators) comparable to being coerced into offering a pinch of incense to an idol.  Too many well-meaning Catholics, rightly opposed to the mandates, have gotten into such a state over the vaccine issue that they seem to imagine themselves in a situation comparable to that of the martyrs of the early Church.  Well, that is just silly.  Things may get that bad, and maybe they will get that bad soon.  But they are not that bad yet.  Being strong-armed into taking an unnecessary jab, though extremely obnoxious and to be avoided if possible, is not comparable to being told to sacrifice to Caesar.  It is more like being forced to pay excessive taxes or to submit to pointless and expensive business regulations.

Why does this matter?  Because there are other, and far more grave, crises on the horizon.  The family, the basic structure of society, and the freedom of the Church to carry out her mission, are all under attack from ideologies that are as wicked as communism and Nazism, and that have the potential to lead to similar tyranny.  No one is going to go to hell for taking a Covid-19 vaccine, but lots of people are in danger of hell from the sexual depravity, racial hatred, and general hostility to traditional Christian teaching now being promoted in all the major institutions of society.  Those are the places where there will likely be no shortage of hills to die on.

To resist these diabolical developments, we need, now more than ever, strong and stable families, and strong and stable intermediate institutions like orthodox Catholic schools and parishes.  Now more than ever, we need police and military personnel willing to maintain the integrity of these institutions and not allow them to become enforcement arms for the ideologies in question.  Now more than ever, we need the Church to maintain its unity rather than fracture in further schisms.

Yet what we see is people losing their livelihoods and their ability to provide for their families and to financially support good schools and parishes; police and military personnel leaving their jobs and abandoning these institutions to the “woke”; and churchmen and other Catholic leaders flirting with schism – all over a vaccine that it is simply not wrong to take in the first place.  It’s as if the Enemy were drawing good people into a classic “rope-a-dope” trap – tricking them into using up their ammunition in a battle of secondary importance, so that they’ll be left defenseless when the real fight comes.  Or to borrow Omar Bradley’s famous words, they are being led to jump gung-ho into “the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.”

This is what I mean when I say that Covid-19 vaccination is not the hill for Catholics to die on.  I don’t mean that they should accept the mandates – on the contrary, the mandates should be opposed.  I don’t mean that they should get vaccinated if, after carefully considering the matter, they decide that vaccination is not for them.  I mean that they should not make their decision under the delusion that they are somehow being called to martyrdom – that Covid-19 vaccination is evil, or that taking it would be disloyal to the Faith.  I mean that they should not pretend that what is ultimately just a political controversy (albeit a very important one) is somehow a matter of Catholic orthodoxy.  I mean that they should balance reasonable concerns about the vaccines against other considerations, such as the threat Covid-19 might pose to their health or the health of their loved ones, the financial stability of their families, and the need to be prepared for a time when they may indeed be commanded by government authorities to do something intrinsically evil.  That is not what is going on now.

If you disagree, great, let’s hear your arguments – but I mean arguments, not ad hominem attacks or other ranting.  For another thing we need, now more than ever, is calm, dispassionate thinking and charitable debate. 

Related posts:

Covid-19 vaccination should not be mandatory

Covid-19 vaccines and Jeffrey Dahmer’s nail clippings

Covid-19 vaccination is not the hill to die on

Grisez on balancing health against other considerations

Preventive war and quarantining the healthy

Lockdowns versus social justice

The experts have no one to blame but themselves

The lockdown is no longer morally justifiable

The lockdown and appeals to authority

The burden of proof is on those who impose burdens

The lockdown’s loyal opposition

Some thoughts on the COVID-19 crisis


  1. Thank you for this post, Dr. Feser.
    If you’re interested in commenting, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts to the claims that the pandemic & vaccination rollout was some nefarious, premeditated act by world governments, the CDC, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, etc. I believe the claims are essentially that these mRNA-type vaccines have been ready for years, and this “pandemic” a planned coronavirus.
    So, apart from the sole “good” motive of “stopping the pandemic”, what OTHER, possibly evil motives (e.g. pharmaceutical companies making big $$$ from the govt purchasing these vaccines) would there reasonably be to have everyone repeatedly vaccinated against Covid? It’s hard to know conspiracy-type thinking from reasonable questioning these days, given the widespread hysteria and censorship.

    1. Hi Adam,

      No, I don't believe that for a minute -- not because I think that such people don't have bad motives (they often do) and not because people don't conspire (they often do, though usually in fairly open ways rather than via the smoke-filled room cabals of some people's fantasies). Rather, scenarios like the one you refer to reflect naivete about how governments and other organizations actually work. People fail to understand how much of what happens is actually driven, not by evil geniuses pulling strings behind the scenes according to some thought-out plan, but rather by mindless groupthink and trend-following by bureaucratic mediocrities who have no idea what the hell they're doing. Here's a good article on how this has happened in the case of the whole Covid-19 affair:

    2. Professor Feser,

      It seems to me that, while the very powerful people Adam is talking about might not have known about Covid-19 (as seen in the fact that the media and left-wing politicians were condemning anyone worried about the Coronavirus as "racist" at the beginning of 2020), these people seemed to have been primed and ready to take advantage of crises like this for years now. Videos like this are a good example of the kinds of plans these people make in advance of a disaster. The same people who rolled out the solution were running simulation test runs for scenarios in which a Covid-like virus escaped. They didn't do it for other diseases and viruses, just the one that was about to be released. What's more, they also game-planned social media responses, censorship campaigns and even the problem of already-existing treatments.

      You are correct that conspirators don't often do things in smoke-filled rooms. Rather, they do things out in the open, but in a way that isn't exactly advertised either. Only if you're paying attention will you notice what they're up to. I also think that there isn't a long-term master plan here. The average Davos man can't think in anything but the short term, so he seized the opportunity that presented itself. There was no plan beyond "secure power right now." For all the power they wield, these people are anything but confident in their position, which only makes them even more dangerous.

      I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

    3. Hi Mr. Geocon,

      Yes, the article I linked to (or maybe it was another article by the same guy) has a useful discussion of this issue. What happens is that you have a set of ideas or projects floating around bureaucracies (government agencies, universities, etc.) and favored by a critical mass of people who read the same journals, attend the same conferences, went to school together, etc. Many of these ideas never go anywhere beyond these circles. But when the right triggering event occurs, suddenly one of these bundles of ideas can be taken off the shelf and quickly becomes adopted by everyone and provides a stock set of policies, talking points, etc. to start spreading in mass media, adopted by administrators, implemented by governments, copied by institutions farther out of the loop, etc. The herd converges on it and no one wants to be thought out of touch, or be held responsible if this new conventional wisdom was not adopted and things went south. With the lockdowns, for example, I think it was less a matter of "Let's use this to increase our power" (though of course there was some of that) than "This is what all the experts are saying and what everyone else has adopted, so we're going with it." (Into the bargain, the lockdowns didn't have as much of a downside for this laptop class of people either, so there wasn't the urgency to walk it back that there would have been had people whose personal livelihoods were being destroyed been in charge.)

      None of this entails that this stuff isn't disgusting, evil, driven by people with bad long-range goals, etc. The point is that the stereotypical conspiracy-theory model just isn't how these things actually work.

    4. There's something missing to your alternative to the conspiracy theory model: namely, who are these "experts" that we're all supposed to follow? How did they get their "expert" status? Their ideas? The standard conspiracy model does explain it neatly while this floating idea model seems to divorce ideas from real human beings.

    5. Maybe it wasn't all planned from the beginning, but the political elite are certainly taking as much advantage as they possibly can. I live in Ireland, and every single damned day since March of 2020 it's been nothing but Covid Covid Covid, Delta Delta Delta, Vaccine Vaccine Vaccine, Omicron Omicron Omicron. I'm sick to death of it. I don't want to hear another word about it as long as I live.

    6. I think Dr. Feser's discussion above about how these things actually work corresponds to the definition of "conspiracy" that underlay Lincoln's use of the term in his "House Divided" speech.

    7. Professor Feser,

      I think it's worth pointing out that "Eugyppius," whose article you link to, is an outspoken critic of the vaccines on safety and especially efficacy grounds. I appreciate your characteristic attempt to bring clarity to a heated issue, and I agree that the abortion angle has been viewed in a rather skewed light (although I do think it's troubling that more Catholics are not at least viscerally disgusted by the connection), but I think there is more to be said for the "hermeneutics of suspicion" toward the medical establishment on this. Doctors and scientists are just as prone as the rest of us, if not more, to arrogance and over-confidence in their own solutions, which periodically turn out to be wildly counter-productive (the professional acceptance of lobotomy being a good recent example, to say nothing of the opioid fiasco). What is the case today? Widespread philosophical and moral illiteracy had clearly long infected the medical and scientific professions, and in the past two years we have reached a point where at the level of simple honesty, the whole train seems to be off the rails. In the dock is a prophylactic treatment using a technology never before used widely in humans precisely because of concerns about side effects, with plenty of mechanisms proposed for long-term pathology. If consensus formation happened along more rigorous lines throughout all major disciplines today, it would be easier to hand-wave the alarmists off.

      A number of thoughtful writers have raised serious and sober objections to assuming the safety and efficacy of these treatments. Alex Berenson and, especially, William Briggs come to mind--and Briggs comes to this from a long-standing exploration of the intellectual weakness of much scientific consensus today. I would like to see you respond to them and not just to the critics who are convinced it's a depopulation scheme.

  2. My theory is that the genesis of the anti-covid-vax lies in the hotbed of conspiracy theories that is the fundamentalist protestant south. If you consider Amish people there is no way they would ever accept a vaccine. And like all heresies protestantism trends towards it's most extreme elements. From hatred of science on one end to lesbian bishops on the other end. It looks like st. Michael has finally come for the most prominent schizmatics of the world. Now this doesn't mean I don't want protestants to convert (I myself am a convert) and that some of their "geist" hasn't influenced many Catholics. I'm just observing the history of an idea.

    1. The Amish are mostly not in the South and they allow got vaccinations (they don't expressly prohibit it).

  3. I work in an ICU. I've seen what Covid19 does, not just to patients, but to those of us here on the frontlines. Philosophize all you want, but please, if you don't want to the vaccine, at least wear a mask and don't spread that damn virus to others.

    1. Oh, please. "Philosophize all you want", so what is the solution? To address this complex problem without thinking seriously about it? Unless you are claiming that Ed is doing some abstract philosophizing without taking into account the data when he should have, which you'll have to demonstrate.

      Also, nobody here is advising against taking precautionary measures, not wearing a mask, or even not doing the vaccine. The author of the blog is vaccinated. What we are discussing is the morals of vaccine mandates. If you have anything to contribute, after having actually read the article, which I am sure you haven't, you can do so.

    2. Here is the sad part. I know nurses that work in ICU, one doesn't think Covid is anything but a flu and the other thinks it is a very nasty virus. the difference is that in one ICU they had 4 patients all this time and in the other they were max on an almost regular basis.

    3. Consider that seeing only the worst of the worst day after day - as one does in an ICU - there might be some warping of perspective on the issue as a whole... I just had covid, I sniffled and had a sore throat for 2 days, that's about it. I took a shot, didn't work. Should I have covered my face with plastic for months? Already have to at work (in Italy). So, maybe the solution lies elsewhere. I really think that if we were faced with the identical scenario (in data) as we have now but had collective amnesia putting us psychologically back in 2019, there would not be any fuss about any of it - period. It's a bad cold, it kills some people who are very vulnerable, you can't really stop it from happening, and that's that.

  4. What about vaccine mandates specifically aimed at the groups that are actually in grave danger from COVID-19? Here, in Greece, the government is making vaccination mandatory for everyone aged 60 and above, by having them pay a fine every month if they continue being unvaccinated after the 15th of January. Since people of that age are, generally, at risk and since it can be shown that are healthcare system is suffering because of the great number of unvaccinated older people entering in great numbers leading to an inability to treat both them and other patients who may need it, can it not be defended?

    Personally, I have commented in the past here and I have explained how I am against mandates for the general population, harmful lockdowns, the divisive policies of separating the vaccinated from the unvaccinated and the politicization of science to support government policies. But such a measure doesn't strike me as unreasonable or unjustified. In fact, I believe the measures should have had an age specific component since the beginning, since we know that this, alongside underlying conditions like heart disease, obesity, etc, is the greatest risk factor. And since natural law does not rule out mandates in principle, I think that such, more specifically aimed mandates, can be defended.

    1. If healthcare overstretch is the concern, then increasing hospital capacity would seem like an obvious and less-intrusive alternative to vaccine mandates.

    2. It would seem but it isn't. Greece has more than doubled it's ICUs and it's still not enough. A great number of Covid patients still have to be treated outside the ICUs and non COVID patients who need them might have a hard time getting them. There are limits to how many you can get and it's not even about money. This is the real world. Germany is one of the countries with the most ICUs per capita and they still had to sent patients by plane to Portugal.

      On the other hand, countries like Portugal itself, or Sweden don't have to do that. What do such countries have in common? A high vaccination number in the elderly populations. Sweden, for example, has the same general vaccination percentage as Greece, but much higher than us in the elderly. We would get like 70-100 deaths daily while they would get like 0-7. Now, under pressure a lot of our citizens over the age of 60 are going to get their vaccine.

  5. Doctor Feser,

    The basic pipeline is the following:

    1. An intrinsically evil act itself (e.g., abortion).
    2. The development of products with the use of material made available because of an evil act.
    3. The use of such products.

    In this post you have addressed the last point or stage.

    I have 2 questions:

    1. How immoral is the second stage? Are there any morally relevant distinctions: whether it requires repetition of the first stage, or different ways in which the developers or makers of a product benefit from different material of evil acts?

    2. One could argue that by using a product which was made in an immoral way, one not merely benefits from an evil, but also creates demand for and encourages it. What do you make of this argument?

    I have phrased this in a general way, but my first interest is in applying this scheme to abortion.

    1. Paulus, the principles and criteria needed are dealt with in the context of the doctrine of (morally licit) "cooperation with evil". You should look it up. Among the criteria are such things as (a) the good sought by the secondary act must not come about precisely by reason of the evil in the primary act; and (b) there is no other alternative method of achieving the good sought (that does not have equal issues of connected evils).

      In general, a secondary agent acting in such a way that his act is "connected to" a primary evil act (such as abortion) may morally do the (secondary) act if constitutes "remote material cooperation" with the primary act. Both the "remote" and the "material" are necessary.
      The remoteness is needed in two ways, first in order not to be "immediate" which is tantamount to formal cooperation, which is immoral. The second is to attenuate the (also) needed amount of good needed to be proportionate to the evil expected from the cooperating act.

      In your example, the middle acts are less remote from the primary act, and this impacts in the second way above. But other than that, they submit to the same principles and criteria. Creating a demand for an evil act by another agent is one aspect of the balancing of goods sought vs. the evils anticipated.

      (In the case of aborted fetus tissue use: it would be an interesting issue if such tissues were ONLY possible by taking them from aborted babies. But (as I understand it) that is not the only possible way the cell-lines can exist, the "demand" created may incidentally run toward getting more cell lines from aborted baby tissue, but not by a necessary pathway. So the evil is more properly resident in him who decides to fill the demand from that source than in the person who demonstrates the need for cell-lines.)

    2. Regarding point #2, the Church has explicitly condemned the development of products with material made available because of abortion. See "Dignitatus Personae" paragraph 35: "Therefore, it needs to be stated that there is a duty to refuse to use such “biological material” even when there is no close connection between the researcher and the actions of those who performed the artificial fertilization or the abortion, or when there was no prior agreement with the centers in which the artificial fertilization took place. This duty springs from the necessity to remove oneself, within the area of one’s own research, from a gravely unjust legal situation and to affirm with clarity the value of human life"

  6. Dearest Edward,

    Allow me to take your challenge up: “If you disagree, great, let’s hear your arguments – but I mean arguments, not ad hominem attacks or other rantings. For another thing we need, now more than ever is calm, dispassionate thinking and charitable debate. “

    Unfortunately I cannot cut and pace here my observations for a technical reason related to the length of the text. But you may read it at the following link:

    If you feel to answer do not hesitate to do it here, as I do peruse your blog regularly.

    Kindest regards

    1. I haven't the time to answer all your points, but I would suggest that you are misreading the CDF/PAL on one point, but that single point pervades most your objections.

      When they talk about the 'refus[al] to use such “biological material”' they are at that moment talking about the duties of those involved in the medical research and production, not the duties of the patient.

      But the duties for these two different classes are not identical, because one is choosing how to go about the creation of a new medicine, and the other whether or not it would be right to take an already existing medicine.

      The latter question is taken up directly in the PAL (under the auspices of the CDF) statement from 2005: "vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis", and goes on to explain why.

    2. Dear Anon,
      thank-you for having taken the time to read at least my first objection.

      I do absolutely share your observation but this not due to a misreading of mine, but, if ever, of the 2020's CDF note.

      Indeed, it is this note which cites, in support to its argumentation, the point 35 of Dignitatis Personae, which is, and I do perfectly agree with you, centered on "the duties of those involved in the medical research and production, not the duties of the patient".

      This point actually reinforces my counter-argumentation.

      Not only: but it explains the ethical bias of the 2020's CDF document towards instrumental causality which is not understandable per se and which I denounced: "I would like to draw your attention to the fact that all the people, and documents, which you cite do only analyze one aspect of causality: which is the instrumental one and the participation to the evil only from this time-depending perspective. While wisdom would suggest analyzing the problem also from a first and final causality perspective. This is something that people who think about the issues involved in business ethics consideration have more the habit to do and will not swallow a camel while filtering mosquitos: the participation to the success of a business model based on evil doings, in this case, abortion, is never remote. Hence, in this context, the categories of material passive and remote cooperation do not apply, as participation to the causa prima/final is always formal."

    3. the participation to the success of a business model based on evil doings, in this case, abortion, is never remote.

      In a great many cases, doctors have performed abortions without any profit entering in, and indeed there have been free clinics offering the entire package "pro-bono" (yes, I recognize the oxymoronic usage there). In addition, there may well have been situations with harvesting tissues also completely outside of any "business" model, i.e. just taking the tissues and handing them over for testing departments "for free", because otherwise the tissue would be simply destroyed. And often enough, testing might be done on a grant basis at a non-profit institution such as a university, so also without any distinct "profit" component or motive.

      I am not sure any of the above deals with the point you were making, as I don't understand the point you were making. The necessary analysis under "cooperation with evil" doctrine is whether the cooperating agent's act constitutes formal or material cooperation with the primary agent's act, and this DOES NOT seem to depend especially on the first or final causality of the primary agent, but on the cooperating agent. The final causality represented by "to immunize a person at risk for a disease" would seem to have little if any room for the necessity of a link to the first or final cause being "to kill a fetus."

    4. Dear Tony,
      A business is an organization or entity that sells goods or services for a profit. The important part of this definition is that a business is something that operates to make a profit: this is its final cause. Not all businesses are successful enough make a profit, but their main purpose is to generate profits: the profit made is the societal recognition of the added value of a given business.
      A business model can be understood as causa prima as it is a high-level plan for profitably operating a business in a specific marketplace which defines it’s value proposition. This is a description of the goods or services that a company offers and why they are desirable to customers or clients, ideally stated in a way that differentiates the product or service from its competitors, go-to-market strategies, R&D, production, you name them.
      Successful businesses have business models that allow them to fulfill client needs at a competitive price and a sustainable cost. Over time, many businesses revise their business models from time to time to reflect changing business environments and market demands.
      This means that it is the market, i.e., the clients and users which decides which business model must be successful or not: in other words which does validate the prima causa of a business to reach its final cause.
      The act of buying a product is, hence, formally linked to the causae prima and finalis of a given business.
      By purchasing, directly or through the state, products issued from the usage of abortion we simply validate the business model of this pharma, not only, but we give them further financial means to continue in the future along such a successful direction, helping to destroy and, anyway, to make even more difficult for other companies who would have liked more ethical approaches: to positively cooperate to this process is for any catholic worth his denomination something impossible to even consider.
      There is a quite large academic bibliography available about the phenomena linked to boycotting, i.e., refusing to buy a product which origins are considered unethical by a group or person and to “buycotting” which is the volunteer choice to buy specifically a kind of product which is deemed related to higher ethical and quality standards.
      For a catholic, being he the Pope or just simply ourselves, it is a moral obligation not to participate formally in any business model which is based on unethical grounds, hence, to boycott these, and at the same to actively favor, i.e., “buycott“, these business activities which are ethically sound.
      Making successful an industry and specific products which are linked to the crime of abortion is, hence, not material, indirect and remote but sheerly formal.
      And we all know dozens and hundreds of examples of people who do boycott businesses related to the mafia, related to children’s exploitation, to palm oil-related deforestation, to sweatshops as well as there are also examples of people “buycotting” guaranteed fair trade products, organically grown or CO2 neutral products: this concept of formal participation to the causa prima of the business as a consumer it’s been in the air for decades.
      Can you just imagine the magnificent blow that would have caused to abortion’s movement if the Catholic Church would have said, OK for vaccines, but only for ethical vaccines: all catholic must accept only ethically proven vaccines. i.e., 1.3 billion fewer consumers: this would have meant that these companies would have had to change their business model, starting from R&D, Testing, and Production for the future and for the present. Instead of that, the Catholic official world is continuing to finance and objectively support that unethical industry.

    5. Seems to be begging the question. The goods and services themselves are not evil precisely except insofar as they are connected with some previous immoral action. That's what's at issue. So you have to show why that link is normatively determinative. Have you read Ed's "nail clippings" post?

      Merry Christmas...

    6. Dear CRS,
      Just read my comment here above and you will find precisely the answer to your very meaningful question.
      Thank you for valuable comment!
      Merry Christmas to you too!

    7. I'm a fan of the author, and have two of his books. His analysis of the ethics of the Covid vaccination is very even handed. I'm not vaccinated myself, nor in the short term do I intend to be, but I dislike the extremes on both sides. Having said that, I have a gut feeling about taking, or I should say, not taking the vaccine. I distrust the so called 'experts', the ones who have a voice here in Ireland are disdainful of people like me who choose not to take the vaccine, and would prefer a less invasive treatment to be available. They regard me and others like me as 'anti vax. That is not helpful. For those who choose to be vaccinated, having weighed up the evidence, I believe they are doing what they think is right. I commend their decision.

    8. I am not aware that the Church's doctrine on cooperation with evil has developed a position that says the kind of cooperation with a for-profit business that permits its profits by buying its service, when that business is benefiting by remote material cooperation with a primary evil act, constitutes formal cooperation with the primary evil act. In fact, I believe that the doctrine rejects BOTH of the following elements of that "chain": the notion that buying a service from a for-profit business inherently involves formal cooperation with the business's own evil practices; and further, the notion that buying a service from a business creates a formal link to a prior primary evil act if the business itself is connected to the primary evil act by only remote material cooperation.

      In any case, Gaëtan, your underlying argument is simply mistaken. The language in DP par. 35 on the "duty to refuse" and "it is necessary to distance oneself" refer to a qualified necessity, one that is SUBJECT TO CONDITIONS. The conditions are, specifically, the cost-benefit ratio of goods to be achieved versus the evils anticipated from associating with an evil prior act. This is EXACTLY why the same section goes on to list situations that could satisfy that cost-benefit ratio in favor of using the sinfully gained material: Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such “biological material”. Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin.

      It is possible to conclude that the Vatican authorities have failed to run that cost-benefit analysis correctly, but if you do so by claiming a different value on factor X12 out of 23 different factors, all you are doing is coming to a different prudential conclusion than others came to. That kind of different opinion doesn't succeed in showing that their thinking rejects the principles laid out in prior magisterial documents.

    9. Dear Tony,
      thank you for looking carefully to my argumentation and for your three levels of observations.
      (1) The Church develops explicit positions only when, at a given point of time, the People of God She in charge of needs specifically firmer direction and this happens when there is possible confusion among the Her believers on a point which was implicitly admitted before (e.g., contraception, abortion, etc.). For example, if we have an organization which attacks and robbers gold in transportation trucks and resells the product of this activity to a fence who manages a jewelry which is going to transform the products into final jewels, which are going to be sold at a lower, hence more competitive price to final end-users, the Church, and you and I, has never wondered if the act of buying knowingly from this jewelry could be permissible for a catholic as clearly it is not. And this is obvious why: because who knowingly buys from this organization makes it worthy for this organization to exist and it participates formally (not materially, directly, or indirectly, remotely, or proximately) to the success of the structure of evil which starts with the initial robbery
      (2) This leads us to your second consideration: the whole document of DP and particularly the point 35 is about looking at the morality of working in the jewelry here above, if the workers, designers, jewelers, accountants, you name do participate formally, or materially, directly, or indirectly, remotely, or proximately to the act of robbing of the organization which sold to the jewelry their adulterated products. Never in DP is considered the point of view of the jewelry’s customer, simply because, in this last case it is obvious, if you know the origin of the “raw” material used then you participate formally to the structure of crime as such.
      (3) When you read the famous sentence and you put it into the context of the point 35, you see it is aimed to the “workers” of the jewelry but not to their customers, though it uses the case of customers: which does not make any sense from a logical point of view, unity and coherence of the whole document, nor form a sheer ethical point of view, as we have seen that who buys knowingly from a fence is as criminal as the fence himself, even if they have not participate to the robbery, nor to the design, testing or production of the final product.

    10. (Continued)
      (4) On the conditions: for a catholic there are topics which ethical gravity can be dependent from the situation for example when one person must steal to survive, which is morally acceptable because the ownership is subordinated to the maintaining of life, i.e., the life of the thief is more important that the ownership of the stolen good. There is hierarchy of value and when two levels enter in competition it is obvious the highest level has primacy. For example, apostasy is always inadmissible even at the cost of one own’s life: this is what martyrdom is all about and so Christian life.
      (5) Abortion is an intrinsic evil which has been defined as such by St John-Paul the Great: this means that there is no circumstance whatsoever which could excuse abortion, nor participate formally, or materially, directly, or indirectly, proximately, or remotely to this crime. The assassination of an innocent is always evil and there will never be circumstances which do justify it, hence which could justify the usage of abortion’s byproducts.
      (6) The concept itself of “cost-benefit analysis” is not something acceptable by Catholic as never an end can justify any mean: these are utilitarian considerations which have nothing to do with our Catholic culture: to us an evil can never ever justify a “good”, especially if this evil is an intrinsic evil like the killing of an innocent like is an abortion.
      (7) The 2020’s CDF’s Document cannot be considered by any means Authentic Magisterium as clearly in explicit contradiction with previous teachings of the Authentic Magisterium and the common sensus fidei fidelium, which is the one of the believers who are, according to the CVII actively engaged along a serious path of personal sanctity, leaving along the commandments of God and the Church, without invoking personal exceptions, who do attend all the sacraments without any sacrilege. It must be disregarded with no misplaced remorse in order to stay loyal to Church which teachings cannot be erroneous, nor induce in error, nor being contradictory as this would be the case.
      Thank you Tony.

    11. I will respond to only one point, the rest being useless:

      The concept itself of “cost-benefit analysis” is not something acceptable by Catholic as never an end can justify any mean: these are utilitarian considerations which have nothing to do with our Catholic culture: to us an evil can never ever justify a “good”, especially if this evil is an intrinsic evil like the killing of an innocent like is an abortion.

      You are, again, utterly mistaken. The idea of a cost-benefit analysis is quite definitively built into the doctrine of (morally licit) cooperation with evil...but ONLY AFTER you have satisfied prior criteria that quite definitely DON'T use a cost-benefit ratio.

      The first is that the secondary act (the act of the cooperating agent, not the primary agent) must not be intrinsically evil in its own right. (E.G. you cannot rape a person and then consider a cost-benefit analysis on the effects thereof). For a cooperator's act that is intrinsically evil even without reference to the primary act, no further analysis is needed, the act is morally wrong.

      The second is whether the cooperator's act is in formal cooperation with the primary agent's evil act. In formal cooperation, the evil character of the primary act so informs the cooperating act that the primary act's character fully determines the cooperating act, into a morally evil act. So, no cost-benefit ratio is applicable when the cooperating act sits in formal cooperation with the primary evil act. (And for this purpose, immediate material cooperation is considered to be tantamount to formal cooperation).

      So, when our cooperator's act has passed these two tests by being remote material cooperation, then it must pass yet another test: the good to be anticipated from the act must be "proportionate to" the evil of cooperating with the evil act. This is, per se, a cost-benefit analysis. There must be proportionate goods to be expected even in the face of known evil effects, to justify accepting the known evil effects. Some (but not ALL) of the evil effects are in the form of (a) being SEEN as a cooperating act, and (b) the potential for scandal caused by being seen in cooperation with the evil act. This means that it is NOT AUTOMATIC that when you have determined that the secondary act is remote material cooperation, this means it is a good act because it has (some) good effect(s). Not automatic, because the good effects may not outweigh the evil effects.

      All of this depends quite clearly on the principle - which JUST IS the principle of (morally licit) cooperation with evil - that with remote material cooperation with a primary agent's evil act, the character of the primary act has a kind of an influence on the secondary act, but not the kind of influence on it as to WHOLLY DETERMINE its moral character. This is unlike a secondary act which is in FORMAL cooperation with the primary act, for which the primary act's evil wholly determines that the secondary act is morally evil. It is the WHOLE POINT of the doctrine: to distinguish when the primary act completely controls the character of the secondary act, and when it does not. In the cases (of remote material cooperation), it does not, and then the moral character depends (like all normal cases of when the act (a) has a good or neutral object, and (b) has a good intention) on the "circumstances", and the circumstances include as a necessary aspect the balance of desirable and undesirable effects. This criterion always comes AFTER the first two, which preclude acts that are evil in their object or evil in their intention, and are thus not susceptible to the cost-benefit rationale.

    12. Thank you once again Tony for your careful answers.
      (a) I assume that by saying “I will respond to only one point, the rest being useless”, you are not using a “Pooh-Pooh” version of the Strawman fallacy ( : hence, I deduct that you do not have counter-argumentations and we can assume these other points as accepted by both parts.
      (b) I also would like to thank you for your secondary school’s level description of primary and secondary agents/act: it is, indeed, a very practical abstract and I see you use it with commendable proficiency. I will be happy to use this structure to quickly answer to each of your points in a matter-of-factly fashion
      (c) You say rightly: “no cost-benefit ratio is applicable when the cooperating act sits in formal cooperation with the primary evil act”. Indeed, this is precisely the position I have expressed: consuming products needing an evil act to exist, is a formal cooperation to a an evil structure and no benefit-ratio reasoning can be applied.
      (d) You correctly recall that “For a cooperator's act that is intrinsically evil even without reference to the primary act, no further analysis is needed, the act is morally wrong.” This is fits perfectly with the whole analysis of DP, which specifically looks when the operators can or cannot participate to the opprobrium of cooperating (and concludes that practically there is no cases where this can be done). The consumer is not a “cooperator” as he/she is not in the “chain” of producing good of services hence DP does not fit well to analyze what their ethical behavior should be and one has to revolve to the usual “Catholic” behavior: one never buys anything knowingly from a fence.
      (e) Once again I am in total agreement with your sentence: “it must pass yet another test: the good to be anticipated from the act must be "proportionate to" the evil of cooperating with the evil act. ». But the fact is that Abortion, like any innocents’ killing, is an intrinsic evil and there is no proportionate good which can “compensate” that evil
      (f) In general, for your information, the doctrine of cooperation with evil within the Catholic Church is always linked to relative evils, and the evaluation of some possible excuse to cooperate with evil (which is always an evil, even if lesser, and never a path to sanctity in any circumstances) is linked to this notion of relativity: if I do buy goods from a company which knowingly uses sweatshops, I do participate formally to their evil business model, but the evil of a sweatshop is not intrinsic or absolute like the one of abortion, hence there could be a greater good for me to pursue nonetheless buying from that shop, for example, not having a purchasing power high enough to sustain my own family. Same applies for someone working as employee and participating materially, directly, or indirectly, proximately or remotely: if this is the only way to sustain his family it is licit though, obviously, not commendable.
      (g) So, dearest Tony, and to summarize our rich and useful exchanges, try to avoid fallacious argumenta ex silentio ( when you refer to the Catholic Church teachings, as they are there, very clearly stated since centuries explicitly and implicitly. And avoid ignoration elenchi ( which is that fallacy which tries to apply a conclusion in one domain (like non intrinsic evils) to another one (in that case to intrinsic evils)
      As far as I am concerned, I think we have both said what we had to say, I am sure we can agree to stop this interesting disputatio at this point.
      Enjoy this Octave of Christmas!

    13. As far as I am concerned, I think we have both said what we had to say, I am sure we can agree to stop this interesting disputatio at this point.

      One lesson in polite discourse, Gaëtan: a polite person doesn't give a lengthy argument against the other position, and then take a stance of closing out the exchange by assuming "we have both said what we had to say". Maybe I need to say something more in response to your voluminous comment?

      Indeed, this is precisely the position I have expressed: consuming products needing an evil act to exist,

      This is not established. The common opinion - and specifically, the opinion of the Vatican - has been that it is not the case that the vaccines at issue cannot exist without the abortions. Two reasons: first, as with vaccines made in the early part of the 20th century, they can be made without testing on "cell lines" from humans. (Indeed, after animal testing, they could be tested on actual living humans). Second, as far as I am aware, "cell lines" can be developed from human tissue (for testing) without killing the human being. Since the vaccines can exist without depending causally on abortion, your premise does not hold.

      I think that DP clearly shows that the cooperating action you are calling intrinsically evil is not, because it poses a situation where DP says is may be morally licit, i.e. when the vaccine may help prevent a widespread, dangerous plague.

      But the fact is that Abortion, like any innocents’ killing, is an intrinsic evil and there is no proportionate good which can “compensate” that evil

      That's the wrong ratio. The ratio is that of the goods to be achieved by the cooperator's act compared to the evils that will also come from the cooperator's act - not the evils of the primary act. St. Paul shows this in his analysis of eating meat sacrificed to idols - an act which is (by its own nature) VASTLY more evil than that of abortion. Eating the meat may be OK, according to St. Paul, depending on other circumstances (like that of causing scandal or not). The "may" indicates, again, the balancing of OTHER goods and evils, those that come from the act of eating said meat.

      I would be fine with discontinuing this disputation at this time, since I will be traveling and probably won't be able to return to this. Merry Christmas.

    14. Dearest Tony,
      I'll gladly let you have the last word if you're so inclined, especially since I have nothing substantial to add, but just that:

      (i) "This is not established. The common opinion...." : here you do two fallacies, the "argumentum ad verecundiam", and the "Inflation of conflict"

      (ii)"That's the wrong ratio. The ratio is that of the goods to be achieved by the cooperator's act compared to the evils that will also come from the cooperator's act"... This is wrong, as there is the category or remoteness or proximity to be considered: but, as already demonstrated, and you did not provide any counterdemonstration, for the users of this vaccine we are facing a case of formal cooperation where this your point does not apply, and, once again, you use two fallacies, the "Pooh-pooh fallacy", and a dazzling "ignoratio elenchi".

      I wish you a Happy New Year 2022 and enjoyable journey, while I am not looking forward to your next irrepressible "last word" ;-)

    15. Dear Tony.
      I am an occasional reader of E.Feser's blog. I am not very familiar with the English language so sorry if I used a translation program to help me with this comment.
      I am writing to you because I noticed that you are talking to a commentator (Gaëtan Cantale-Miège) who in Italy has a blog called "Croce Via", which is a blog that I still happen to read even though I cannot comment because I am now blocked.
      This commentator (whose Italian pseudonym is Simon de Cyrene) is known to be a manipulator of discussions, where he does not hesitate to resort to censorship in order to hinder the responses of those who dare to contradict his opinions. Although he professes himself a Catholic on his blog he makes extensive use of intellectual dishonesty and the "strow-man" method. He deletes or modifies the most uncomfortable comments, up to completely blocking the commentators (I myself have been blocked for some time now). He is very cultured from the theological point of view, but from the human point of view he is clearly an egocentric whose sole purpose is not to affirm the truth but to win every dialectical battle at any cost.
      To prove it, you can see at this link how this conversation of yours has been republished, obviously without your last comment, to demonstrate his thesis to the Italian commentators, and to pass you off as a fallacious commentator. Even Feser himself is treated with respect on this blog, but criticized in a very rude and malicious way on the Italian blog.

      So don't waste much time with him. Those who use non-Catholic methods, even if to affirm Catholic theses, think they are in the licit but in reality they do nothing but do the Church a bad service. Obviously, those who use non-Catholic methods to affirm non-Catholic theses, different from what the Church claims and without respect for it, are even worse.
      Wish you an happy new year!

    16. As I indicated earlier, I was traveling, and could not return to this timely. Now that I have returned, I see that Gaetan has used much smoke to poo-pooh my comments. I wish to clarify for those readers who may have been interested:
      The “argumentum ad verecundiam” is an argument from inappropriate authority, i.e. an “authority” without the pertinent expertise. Gaetan errs in calling it this, as I was not arguing on the AUTHORITY of the Vatican, rather I was arguing the FACT that the premise is not “generally accepted” by the example that the Vatican did not accept the premise. Pointing to a counterexample instance is not “relying on authority”. (The premise at issue was the premise that the vaccine cannot exist without using tissue gained from an abortion.) My further comments gave independent reasons, rather than relying on authority, for denying the premise, besides the point that the premise is not generally accepted. And my further comments on the premise did NOT IN THE LEAST rely on conflicting authorities (or any authority at all), so his remark about it being an “inflation of the conflict” fallacy is just another red herring.

      Gaetan’s further descent into red herrings goes on with his other fallacy references, neither of which actually have any bearing on my comments or arguments, and give evidence that he neither understood my arguments, nor the principles involved in the doctrine of cooperation with evil to begin with. The re-assertion that we are looking at formal cooperation with evil, without argument or foundation, is mere contradiction to my commentary, not argument. The closest I ever came to a comment that might have been tinged with the “pooh pooh fallacy” was not in my Dec. 31 comment at all, but in my Dec. 29 comment, in which I alluded to “the rest being useless.” Yet what I meant, actually, wasn’t that “the rest of Gaetan’s arguments are useless”. Rather, that trying to argue with the rest was useless, as I would have to expend enormous amounts of energy (and electrons and comments) to deal with all the multitudes of wrong thinking to make sufficient headway, and I decline to kludge up Feser’s blog with a dozen 4000-character comments to dispose of the errors.

      I leave the discussion with this: two prominent bishops who disagree with the Vatican’s conclusion that using the vaccine may be morally licit, nevertheless AGREE that the act is remote material cooperation with the primary evil act of abortion, and one at least agrees that it is not intrinsically evil. I discussed their comments here:

      I agree with mentelibera65 that continuing to argue with Gaetan is probably pointless, and I did not register the above in order to further the argument. I was primarily clarifying the non-applicability of the silly fallacies he asserted, for the sake of any readers who might have been cowed by his use of high-falutin names for the fallacies. Let’s see if Gaetan accepts his offer to let me have the last word.

  7. I don't know how prof. Ed manage so much reading.

  8. The only real and verifiable conspiracy is the gross incompetency of government and government agencies and the health care sector.

  9. The defense of mandatory vaccines on grounds of "it's been done before" isn't a good one. It's one thing for the military to require them, but we are closing in on the point where you cannot function in the world at all if you wish to avoid the vaccine. Imagine the outrage if the government decided it needed to eradicate HIV for example, and employers required employees to submit their HIV status, and would fire anyone who didn't. Now substitute the word Covid for HIV and it's all good.

    Regarding child vaccinations, as a kid, you have no idea what's happening, all you know is that your parents brought you to the doctor and you're getting jabbed, you have no say in the matter.

    And then the covid hucksters have the gall to accuse others of being selfish while they literally force people to have invasive medical procedures against their will just to stave off homelessness, not to mention forced wearing of a magical talisman that does nothing but impedes normal breathing. Saddest of all, they think they're the good guys, that they're the smart ones who are saving everyone else from themselves. Oh well, clown world must go on.

    1. I don't think the HIV analogy is a good one, for obvious comparative reasons.
      More analogous would be the flu when it first came out.

    2. Regarding child vaccinations, as a kid, you have no idea what's happening, all you know is that your parents brought you to the doctor and you're getting jabbed, you have no say in the matter.

      I believe that in the 1950's and 60's, many childhood disease vaccines were administered in schools by school doctors and nurses, with little TO NO of parental involvement or approval. That happened in a lot of countries. Whether it was right or wrong at the time, nobody seems to think that a horrific human rights abuse happened.

      As for more recently: yes, it is true that parents now are involved in the decisions, but (a) hospitals and primary doctors lean extremely heavily on new parents to ensure babies many vaccines in their first few months. While the practice might not meet a strict definition of coercion, it is the next closest thing. Further, the policy of requiring vaccines in order for a child to attend school, (combined with child truancy laws mandating children attend school) is certainly coercive. The universal policies of colleges to require vaccines for attendance is coercive, though in a slightly softer way (since college is not mandatory). Nobody has been publicly outraged at these policies, and there has been no wide movements to change them.

      Maybe the public SHOULD have been outraged at the policies for the last 60 years and more. But one would have to give a reason that explains why these were accepted for 60 years to give us a good basis to say why the thinking for the last 60 years has been all wrong and we know better now.

    3. Maybe the public SHOULD have been outraged at the policies for the last 60 years and more. But one would have to give a reason that explains why these were accepted for 60 years to give us a good basis to say why the thinking for the last 60 years has been all wrong and we know better now.

      Those other vaccines were tested much more thoroughly (as I understand it -- maybe normal testing procedures weren't actually as stringent back then?), so there was less uncertainty about potential long-term side effects.

    4. I agree that for much of the time, testing was done over a longer time and there was more time taken to understand what the data actually could tell us - and what it could not. Certainly that was true in the 80's, 90's, and 00's. This is good reason to think there may well be some (or many) situations where people are not well-advised to take these new vaccines, and more reason to not make them mandatory.

      On the other hand, before the 1970's - and especially before the 1950's, it is not clear that vaccines had better testing regimens or standards than the current COVID tests have had. It's not like we didn't have a pretty decent trial size, for example. Yes, we had a fairly short trial period, to start with. But at this point (with ongoing data collection) we have had about the SAME trial period as was used in some earlier testing for earlier vaccines in the 2000's, that I saw in researching this, e.g. 18 months. So, while it may have been somewhat more risky to take the vaccine in Dec. 2020 because of the unknowns from a short study period, at this point the risks are, at least, more like the risks that were accepted in other vaccine trials, in terms of trial periods. So, if we (as a society) found taking the vaccine in the older case was justifiable, then in the current case it is hard to see a clear rationale for social outrage at making the vaccine available now.

  10. Not to sound alarming or something, but if at least half of these testimonies are true ( you guys are facing dire situations - and surrounded by creepy people.

    Since I'm Brazilian I can't confirm that though, but if that is true it's abominable what they're doing. And it seems that they're undermining their own wokeness with that measures. Because who else in the world would pay a college for being at home all day?

    If I may say this sounds a lot like the 'hygienist police' back in the 20th century - back in the rising of positivism. Of course, it's just a parallel with that abhorrent Cesare Lombroso and co. but the point is that we have already seen this kind of thing in history before - without the Covid part but you guys get the point.

  11. Some recent developments. A bit of foolishness from some on the anti-vaccine side:

    And, much worse, real cruelty from some on the pro-mandate side:

    1. The two extremes are the ones responsible for the prolongment of all this. The "we are all gonna die" crowd and the "its just a flu" crowd, drive their irrational and unreasonable views to a point where it's two steps forward, one step back. I guess right-wing anti-vaxxers forget that it was Trump that pushed and drove the vaccination program in the US. Operation Warp Speed indeed.

    2. Unknown: You are right. I never voted for Trump but to his everlasting credit, he pushed Operation Warp Speed
      and despite naysayers in the media and in academia who said a vaccine couldn't be developed that fast, it was!
      Trump said the vaccine should have been named after him. Maybe if it had been, more of his supporters would have taken it.

  12. Saudi said if you're vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask.

    Now California has lost its mind and is re-imposing mask mandates on its people, regardless of the evidence that Omicron is not deadly.

    How else am I supposed to express my frustration with unelected bureaucrats besides refusing to get the vaccine?!?

  13. The analogy to the state's authority to wage war and to require military service is apt. In addition to the considerations identified, that would also suggest that vaccine mandates can only be imposed by the legitimate authority. In our system of government, that would have to be the legislature. But no national or state legislature has imposed such a mandate. Most of these mandates are being imposed by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. For me, that is the simplest and strongest indication that these mandates are unjust.

    1. I agree that the legislature should be involved. The problem is not an "emergency" of the sort in which action must be taken in the next 72 hours, there is plenty of time for the legislature to weigh in and forge a policy that is measured and balanced.

      In addition to the military analogy, there are others as well: In times of natural disasters (floods, tornadoes, droughts, forest fires) there are ample examples of governments taking over things that normally are left to individuals. Including commandeering private property, forcing evacuations (whether you want to or not), etc.

  14. What's your position on the mask mandates? Do they work? Are they morally permissible/prudent, or should wearing a mask be voluntary like taking the vaccine?

    1. From what I understand, voluntary masking wouldn't work. Masks don't protect the wearer from other people. They theoretically protect other people from the wearer. So if some people are wearing masks in a particular place and others are not, the masked wouldn't be protected from the unmasked and the unmasked wouldn't be protected from each other. To have protection, everyone has to be masked. Or that's how things would work if masks actually did anything except shove allergens up your nose, make breathing difficult, and fog up your glasses.

    2. Look at S.Korea and Japan.
      Restrictions sure but no lockdowns and the populations has always been a "masking wearing" one when needed (flu season) and look how well they have done. S.Korea = 94 deaths per million. Japan = 146 per million.

    3. Fred, so you think the virus cannot go from the wearer to other people but can go from the people to the wearer?

    4. Jaime,

      The reason the masks protect the people around the wearer, as opposed to the person wearing the mask, is based on the difference between inhaling ambient air around infected people and inhaling the respiratory jet of an infected person.

      When we breathe out normally, we send out a plume of air called a respiratory jet. Such a jet from an infected person will have a much higher concentration of the virus than the ambient air the person occupies. A mask on the infected person will interfere with the jet, causing a broader dispersal pattern and more quickly putting the exhaled viruses into an ambient air environment.

    5. Jets and stuff . . . any concocted justification for masks will do, I guess. Blow cigar smoke through a mask and see if the people around you can't smell it.

    6. Here is a link to a quiz which shows the case charts from various neighboring jurisdictions that have very different mask mandate policies and asks you to pick out which jurisdictions have the mandates. Good luck!

    7. Unknown,

      Attributing the success of Japan and South Korea to masks is selection bias as it overlooks contrary evidence from other demographics that have very different results but with masks.

      Furthermore, there are many other factors such as general metabolic health, obesity, vitamin D, and who knows what else.

    8. The real evidence for how masks work is if you're going to the Met Gala, or the French Laundry, or celebrating Obama's Bday, or if you're a lockdown governor who vacations in Florida. Do you think the people who lock you in your closet actually think they're risking death?

    9. T N,
      Blow cigar smoke through a mask and see if the people around you can't smell it.

      They can also tell the difference between the smell being in the air and blowing smoke directly in a person's face. Even your own example shows how wrong you are.

      Here is a link to a quiz ...
      whose first question relied on carefully chosen timelines and selected data to make it's point, which of course would fool the innumerate.

      Furthermore, there are many other factors such as general metabolic health, obesity, vitamin D, and who knows what else.

      Of course, and masking helps with every demographic.

      The real evidence for how masks work ...
      is not provided by the behavior of politicians, who are not public health specialists.

    10. Apparently I'm not allowed to respond. Ok.

    11. TN,

      Sure you can respond. I've let all of your other comments through. But the comment I did not allow through seemed to me just a kind of sarcastic ad hominem remark, and I made it clear in the original post that I would not let such comments through in this thread.

    12. Fair enough, but such is the problem with people who are tolling: a good faith discussion becomes impossible. And what's left then?

    13. One Brow,

      Conflating the irritant properties of smoke with the infectious properties of a virus is a fallacy.

      If masks worked it would be reflected in data, which it isn’t.

      The claim by unknown was that Japan did well because of masks, which is an actual example of the selection bias you complain of with the mask quiz above.

      Pointing out the people who make the rules don’t believe the rules is a valid criticism.

      In the purely hypothetical case of someone, somewhere on the internet wanted to gaslight, none of this type of discussion matters one bit because good-faith discussion is not the goal of such a person.

      Thanks for the discussion! Have a fantastic day!

    14. T N,

      When you accuse people of trolling, you should take care to make sure your own arguments are sound, instead of smoke.

      I agree the conflation of properties smoke and viruses would be a fallacy. However, I was referring to the difference between respiratory jets and ambient air, which is 1) highly relevant to the discussion of masking, and 2) an issue you did not bother to address. Do you have an actual, on-topic point here?

      That masks work *is* reflected in the data. Of course, when there are hundreds of variable, of which masking is just one, it does not become the dominant variable, but rather is one of dozens of contributing variables.

      Japan did well for many reason, and masking was in fact one of them, but I agree that masking was likely not the sole, nor even primary, reason. I did not feel unknown statement was incorrect enough to dispute, nor correct enough to support.

      Pointing out hypocrisy is a valid criticism of the hypocrite as a person, but it is not a valid criticism of the advice offered by the hypocrite. The advice is good or bad on its own merits.

      I agree that in the hypothetical case of one person being more interested in defaming another person than in disputing the actual points made, this type of discussion does not matter as much as a good-faith discussion on the topic. Should the person interested in defamation decide to have an actual discussion instead, that would be a welcome surprise.

      I wish you good health of all sorts.

  15. I appreciate these posts on the vaccine and the mandate, and your bringing some much-needed sanity to these matters.

    My question: given that a vaccine mandate is not intrinsically immoral, does that mean that those to whom such mandates apply are morally obligated to get vaccinated (on the principle that we owe obedience to those with legitimate authority over us), even if such a mandate might be extremely foolish and imprudent? If not, why not?

  16. Dr. Feser,

    Thank you for this. I had had similar (almost point by point) feelings for the past six months or so, but you laid them out in a well-reasoned and systematic way that made me feel like maybe I wasn't the only one thinking this way (in my group of orthodox, trad Catholics--it was getting lonely!). I'm not a philosopher, but I wrote similar things in May on this topic, esp as it relates to St. Paul's sacrificing meat to idols scripture. God bless

  17. There are a lot of people who perceive the vaccine as a trap and a lie, a test of one's willpower. The way they perceive it, if you take the vaccine, then you are sending the signal that you are willing to just believe whatever the people in charge say no matter how ridiculous. Therefore, the vaccine is the line in the sand. After all if we don't have the conviction to say no to this, then what's the point of even opposing this system at all?

    What are your thoughts on that?

    1. I think there's something to this argument. And whilst it may be tempting to brush it off as a symbolic side-issue and advocate saving one's energy for more important fights (the "don't waste your ammunition" analogy Ed uses), I'm not sure that such tactics can actually claim all that much success historically. For example, when gay marriage was first being seriously pushed, some countries tried introducing civil partnerships as a compromise, and conservatives in these countries generally went along -- after all, a civil partnership isn't really marriage, more sensible to save effort and political capital for the event that the government ever tried to pass full-on gay marriage. Sounds sensible, right? Unfortunately, it didn't actually work out that way, because it turned out that, once you accept the principle of same-sex partnerships which are legally and socially identical to marriage, it becomes very hard to convincingly argue against same-sex marriage -- you've already conceded the substance of same-sex marriage, so why (an outside observer might very well ask) not just go the whole hog and call it marriage? It turned out that the same-sex marriage "hill" was actually a strategically vital position, and that its capture rendered our main base completely indefensible.

      Anyway, the point of this slightly rambling analogy is simply that I worry a similar thing might happen with COVID vaccination mandates. It may seem like a comparatively unimportant fight, but I worry that by conceding it, we'll also lose important principles like "The government can't force people to take medical treatments which haven't been fully tested yet" or "The government can't force people to act against their consciences" -- and, I think, the loss of those principles would be a very regrettable thing indeed.

    2. There are indeed "test cases" and symbolic cases that "set the tone" for other practices that (may) come along. And it makes sense to nip these in the bud, when you can. After all, one bad apple in the barrel can spoil them all.

      But these are inherently judgment call types of situations. That is, matters about which different people will LEGITIMATELY have different judgments and opinions, including good, well-informed, wholesome men who are thinking well about the matter. These judgments regard such things as likely future events, including second-order and even third-order downstream effects, about which we can have more or less well-made opinions but we cannot have definitive knowledge. We cannot know all of the significant factors going into the situation, nor all of the significant effects coming out of these complex situations, there is no certainty of the best action, nor is there even certainty for clearly distinguishing all the elements of the subset {those pathways that produce, on the whole, better effects than otherwise} from the subset {those pathways that produce, on the whole, worse effects than otherwise}. As a result, this is EXACTLY the kind of situation of which the Church rejects definitive claims that "doing X is a sin" or "not doing X is a sin" - which is the main thesis in this post. It may well be the case that resisting both government mandates and the vaccines is the better thing here, but even if it is, NOT resisting doesn't imply sin.

  18. Spot on. And littered with names of former professors of mine! Love it.

    Also what was missed in the conscience-exemption discussion was the thought, however, that one might refuse according to a conscience well informed by religious principles, such as Catholic moral theology, which do not depend on a shot being intrinsically evil but just normal evil - such as a sense of one's duty to stand for the principle of autonomy in medical experiments, for instance. Everyone but Phil Lawler (and myself) seemed to miss that when that discussion was going on. Very disappointing.

    1. Can you elucidate on this? Or point us to an article? In particular, WHOSE autonomy? The aborted baby?

      The point of the CDF teaching docs is that taking a vaccine that was tested using cell-lines from an aborted baby MAY be morally licit - thus is not intrinsically evil. But whether it is actually moral in the concrete case depends on particulars, as it involves weighing the goods to be achieved against the evils also expected from cooperating with evil. That is a determination that takes place in regards to each vaccine and each disease.

      The later determinations both by the Vatican and the USCCB were that, in the context of this particular disease and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, that balancing act is largely in favor of taking the vaccines, because of very large societal and personal costs from not innoculating the population. They might have made a mis-calculation in such a judgment if they had invalid data to work with, for example, if the vaccines were far, far more dangerous than had been said at the time. But absent such, I don't see how the conclusion could be readily shown to be in error. Though it might be shown to be not applicable to all parts of the population, which would be a distinguishing factor.

      Outside of the issue of the mandate, (and the aborted baby), I am not aware of how autonomy is an issue here.

    2. Hi Tony,

      The principle of autonomy is the bioethical principle of making one's own free medical decisions without coercion. To set the precedent that drugs without long and transparent test histories can be pushed in the way that is happening is the huge problem re autonomy. So yes, it's the mandate, that's the issue. I think Fisher's book has a good discussion of autonomy...

    3. sense of one's duty to stand for the principle of autonomy in medical experiments,...So yes, it's the mandate, that's the issue.

      There is no "duty" to stand for the "principle of autonomy" as if it were a moral wrong NOT to reject the vaccine precisely BECAUSE it was mandated. Each individual person's individual judgment may differ on whether to resist is better, as a prudential matter, taking into account their own circumstances, along with weighing the large sets of goods to be achieved (and the probability of success) against the evils to be expected (and their probabilities) in an estimative consideration. There is, then, no GENERAL duty to resist, only a general duty to seek the good.

    4. the bioethical principle of making one's own free medical decisions without coercion.

      And there is no such general principle, if by "coercion" you mean that all laws that impact medical care are immoral. There are laws forbidding the use of certain drugs - e.g. marijuana; laws constraining the use of other drugs or procedures whether the doctor or patient agrees or not; and laws requiring vaccines when a child goes to school. There are, further, laws forbidding people to DEMAND treatment without paying for it, so if they don't have the money, the treatment is off-limits - i.e. the coercion of the marketplace. There have been plenty of laws that have put in place moral and religious prohibitions about immoral practices: e.g. against abortion. There are laws against people setting up shop as "doctors" unless they have an M.D. and a license from the state, thus depriving patients from their services. We live with tons of laws constraining what we do medically.

    5. Yes. I agree with what you are saying.

  19. Dr. Feser,

    I agree with most of your arguments on this topic and how you typically approach them. I disagree, however, on how you are using and casually throwing around the term: anti-vax.


    Because based on your own argument:
    "3. Covid-19 vaccination should be voluntary, and existing mandates should end."

    You are now among those who are called anti-vaxxers.

    ":a person who opposes the use of vaccines or regulations mandating vaccination."
    "especially : a parent who opposes having his or her child vaccinated"

    Did you also know that the definition of vaccine also changed?
    From: August 26, 2021:
    Immunity: Protection from an infectious disease. If you are immune to a disease, you can be exposed to it without becoming infected.

    Vaccine: A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease.
    Vaccination: The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease.

    To: Sept. 1, 2021:
    Immunity: Protection from an infectious disease. If you are immune to a disease, you can be exposed to it without becoming infected.

    Vaccine: A preparation that is used to stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases.
    Vaccination: The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce protection from a specific disease.

    And finally, WHO changes definition to herd immunity:

    Dr. Feser, while you are over here on this corner of the internet writing well thought out arguments and calling for charity on the legitimacy of taking a vaccine (therapeutics by the old definition due to the lack of effectivity starting after the 3 month mark to the 6 to 9 month mark where there is a need for a booster) the rest of the world just change the rules.

    1. I'm not sure what you're problem is with what I wrote. I used the term "anti-vax" or its equivalent only four times in a very long article, and I did not use it as an insult but simply as a descriptor for people who think no one should use any of the Covid-19 vaccines. I also explicitly noted that some pro-mandate fanatics wrongly use the term as an epithet to fling at anyone who opposes the mandates.

    2. Mr G
      "There are a lot of people who perceive the vaccine as a trap and a lie." Why? It's Trump's vaccine. He pushed its development,took it himself, and during a speech to a crowd in Alabama, encouraged his supporters to take it.
      Did Trump lie and set a trap for others? Trump often spoke out against what he called "the system." But he didn't consider resisting the vaccine as "opposing the system."

    3. The definitions of vaccine and immunity were updated yes and about time.
      Using the flu vaccine as an example, the vaccine has always had waning efficacy (after about 4 months) and people that got it could still catch the flu and transmit it (albeit far less than those without the shot). MMR is another example, you are protected but can still get measles (very rare but possible).

    4. (moving to be under initial thread post)

      I don't have a problem with what you wrote. I'm simply saying your use of the term is now outdated (according to the secular cathedral).

      Maybe I shouldn't say:
      I disagree, however, on how you are using and casually throwing around the term: anti-vax.

      But instead say,
      Your term anti-vax is now being used in a way that you would find uncharitable in your descriptors, and your current stance on mandates puts you in the same group as the conspiracy theorists anti-vaxxers.

      The flu vaccine, per your example, should be in the same category as this current therapeutic mRNA delivery system. They are not vaccines as per the old technology. They are both leaky in the sense that they don't provide protection from infection and from symptoms, as well as lasting protection from future variants.

      The the MMR (your other example) system, the majority of the "breakthrough cases" are rare cases are due to conditions -other than- the classical vaccine e.g. the person develops a condition in which an immune deficiency occurs.

      I will use Dr. Feser's example of causality in response to Hume. Considering a human body works as expected and the classical vaccine works as expected, the person will have an immunity, or a lasting protection from the contracting the disease and lasting protection from variants of the disease. If the MMR doesn't work as said, it is due to some other intrinsic or extrinsic cause unrelated to a typical person or a typical MMR system.

      So currently, we have:
      1) Classical Vaccines - provide immunity
      2) Therapeutics - provide some protection and reduce the severity and symptoms
      3) "Progressive" vaccines - basically act like a middle ground between the classical MMR vaccines and therapeutics.

      The new definition covers 2) and 3) but acts like we have 1) as well, which is not the case. If they want to call mRNA technology a therapeutic instead of a vaccine, then I would agree. But if they want to call it a vaccine in the classical sense, then I would say no - they have moved goalposts for their benefit. Come up with a new term to cover 1) or 3), because they are not the same thing.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. Hi Dr Feser, thank you so much for your thoughtful takes on a really complex situation. You've given me a huge amount of clarity.

    Regarding the 'intrinsically moral' vs 'unwise' and 'imprudent' dimension of the mandates, however, I'm wondering how you think the vaccines' only provisional approval would tie in here. I'm writing from Australia, and so they're only provisionally approved, and our TGA (like your FDA) has said that they've agreed to rely on 'rolling data' while clinical trials are still ongoing. What this means, by definition, is that the vaccines are in their research stages, and thus 'experimental'. We're pretty much relying on incoming date 'in real time', so to speak, to fully understand them (myocarditis risk being one example of many). Because it is a human right enshrined in the Nuremberg Code and Declaration of Helsinki to not be coerced into experimentation, it would seem to follow that mandating these particular vaccines is a breach of human rights and thus intrinsically immoral.

    Mandates themselves are obviously not intrinsically immoral, because with well-established vaccines we can and do create incentive structures and mandates for them. That's fine. But for these, clinical trials are ongoing. Does this fact move the mandates from being 'imprudent' to being 'intrinsically immoral'? My intuition is that it does, but if you have some thought I would love to hear them.

    Thanks again for your clarity.

    1. That would give it the status of evil but not of intrinsically evil. An intrinsically evil act is so by virtue of its object regarless of circumstances.

  22. Innocent question. Can anyone tell me, how much the value of the Vatican's investment portfolio has increased with respect to its positions on pharma that produce vaccines, since Francis has (1) declared himself in favor of this abortion business-model (2) imposed it on all employees in his Vatican State giving a clear message to all other states? Since St. Peter's Pence is going downhill, I guess this should be a real breath of fresh air.

    Translated with (free version)

  23. This is a very good post. I hope this pandemic of distraction ends soon. Of course the leftists will hang on to it for dear life, but so will the other side. I've attended several large demonstrations against lockdowns and mandates - have to say there are a large number of loonies there. As far as I can make out, the main ideological alternative seems to some kind of anarchism. The vast majority have never done anything political before; they're a reaction to state policy and will remain part of the scene for a good while. Committed but leaderless. Asking for trouble.

  24. No one is facing persecution for having taken the shots. By contrast, unprecedented persecution is being experienced by those who decline, whether for reasons of conscience, safety concerns, or simply the refusal to be a "guinea pig" in an experiment. And that persecution is taking place with barely a peep of protest from the pro-vax side, most of whom seem content to get on with their "normal" lives, tinged with anger at the unvaxed who, per our president, are continuing to make life miserable for everyone, which of course if a preposterous claim. Further, the moral concerns don't stop with one abortion, from which was derived a cell line used in developmental research and testing. It involves likely multiple abortions more akin to partial birth dismemberments done without anesthetics so as to ensure a healthy organ specimen. And it involves the continuing commercialization and profiteering at the expense of these innocent victims. I'd note the CDF guidance requires the faithful to cooperate with this evil only if there are not alternatives; and there are in the form of effective treatments which are being suppressed, and IF they make their vociferous objections well known which few if any are doing.

    1. I think you are right: it is all preposterous. And the moral concerns are indeed far from concern with one abortion. One estimate says the vaccines have caused on the order of half a million spontaneous abortions. And again: barely a peep of protest from any side. I think much more fundamental than the abortion issue is that the whole pandemic and response has been built on lies enforced by censorship. The nature of the lies has been at the very mildest a complete lack of honesty about the (in fact obviously and gravely defective) prudential grounds for any of the measures taken: experimental lockdowns, experimental vaccines, authoritarian mask and vaccine mandates, etc.

    2. One estimate says the vaccines have caused on the order of half a million spontaneous abortions. And again: barely a peep of protest from any side.

      That would be because there is no truth to this claim.

      I think much more fundamental than the abortion issue is that the whole pandemic and response has been built on lies enforced by censorship.

      Funny how we have so many commentators on this post and no one has been censored.

      More VAERS dumpster-diving and post hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacies.

  25. There are natural rights, recognized in law, that protect people from assault and battery. No one can be compelled to accept an A&B upon their person. Can a rapist coerce "consent" by threatening one's well being, livelihood, or family? Forcing people to accept an injection which they don't want through punitive coercive measures such as loss of employment, educational opportunities, the right to travel, dishonorable discharge from the armed forces and the like is violative of that basic principle. Further, by virtue of natural law and the Nuremberg Code, anyone who is being subjected to an experimental medical product is entitled to informed consent as well as assurances that their cooperation is strictly voluntary. Given that the authorities have no idea whatsoever as to long term health effects of these products they have a duty to clearly inform the public that the products are indeed experimental and that long term health cannot be guaranteed. This is in addition to refraining from any coercive measures. These principles are being violated. Whether or not someone thinks these shots are a good idea, it is disconcerting to many of us, that these basic principles have been lost in the discussion.

  26. Dr. Feser,

    Have you read the "Bethlehem Declaration"? I'm not sure what to think about it.

    It states that the COVID-19 mRNA injection is not morally licit as it does not meet the CDF Note's requirements that the vaccine must be used to prevent a "grave danger," that there is "no alternative treatment available," and the COVID-19 mRNA injection isn't actually a vaccine, but a gene therapy that has not been thoroughly tested for long-term consequences. It was signed by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, and others. It seems like your blog commentary above does not address these three topics, namely:

    1) That the low death rates of COVID don't present a "grave danger" to the vast majority of the population, and so the injections are not allowable as they are still a "passive, material cooperation" with an intrinsically evil act.

    2) That there are "other means to prevent or stop the spread of the epidemic" such as alternative therapeutics that are as successful at reducing the severity of the disease and preventing death (e.g. Zelenko protocol, etc.) Since the COVID "vaccines" don't prevent or stop the spread any more than these therapeutics, it's hard to understand how the CDF Note can even be applicable given the definition of "vaccine" when the Note was written.

    3) That the gene therapies have not been studied for long-term impact.

    Furthermore, these injections also don't prevent the "grave danger" of "uncontainable spread" because they don't prevent the spread in any meaningful way, but instead only reduce the symptoms of the disease, making it a therapeutic gene-therapy injection and not a vaccine. Perhaps calling it a gene-therapy injection is only semantics, but perhaps not. I think a reasonable person would think reducing the severity to prevent death would be just as valid in the CDFs eyes as stopping the spread to prevent death, but perhaps not.

    Finally, given that the Omicron variant thus far appears to be significantly less deadly than the previous variants of the virus, it seems like the points above are strengthened even further.

    What are your thoughts?

    God bless,


    1. Hello Joe,

      With all due respect to the signatories, this is just another example of the overstatement and lack of balance that I criticize in the main post. The declaration is mostly a laundry list of empirical assertions about medical and political matters, some of them defensible and some dubious, but all of which are presented in an unjustifiably breathless and peremptory way and all of which go well beyond the signatories’ competence and authority as churchmen and theologians.

      Nor is it sufficient for the signatories to point out that there are experts who support some of their assertions. For one thing, there are also experts (indeed, many more experts) who would not support the assertions. For another, the signatories are not only not experts on the medical matters in question, but are also not experts on who the best experts are. That doesn’t mean that they have no right to form an opinion about these matters, but they shouldn’t present it as anything more than what it is, viz. the opinion of non-experts. These matters are complicated and our information about many aspects of them is imperfect, so that tentativeness is called for even among experts, let alone non-experts.

      Most importantly, the signatories simply have no business presenting these claims as if Catholic orthodoxy required agreement with them. And they certainly have no right peremptorily to present their opinion on this matter as if it were a surer guide for Catholics than the judgment of the CDF. In the article I cite in the main post, Fr. Sullivan and Fr. Pereira have (at pp. 1096-97) some important remarks about the scandal caused by churchmen and other Catholics whose criticisms of the vaccines go to the extreme of rejecting the official pronouncements of the CDF and thereby encouraging the faithful to reject the teaching authority of the Church. As Frs. Sullivan and Pereira note, there is a duty to repair such scandal by publicly retracting and apologizing for such extreme statements.

      I would also point out that some of the signatories of the declaration have in the past raised important criticisms of the doctrinal and moral problems that plague the Church today. But they damage their credibility, and thereby undermine these earlier important contributions, by persistently overstating things on Covid-19 related matters and thereby attempting to tie Catholic orthodoxy to what are really just political controversies (albeit important ones) rather than matters of theological principle.

    2. Thank you for your response. Setting aside the Bethlehem Declaration itself and the signatories, how would you respond to the three issues I listed in relation to the applicability of the CDF note? 1) For most people, there is no grave danger; 2) There are very effective therapeutic alternatives now available; 3) This is not a vaccine per se (which prevents spread) but is a gene-altering therapeutic that diminishes symptoms but not transmissibility. Again, thank you for your time. These are difficult issues for us non-philosophers to parse-out, so I appreciate your efforts.

    3. Joe you went from "gene therapies" in the first post to "gene-altering therapeutics". That is a sleight of hand. The mRNA therapy certainly is genetic information to code protein synthesis, which is an unusual but possibly justified term. There is zero evidence the mRNA alters human host genome.

    4. That there are "other means to prevent or stop the spread of the epidemic" such as alternative therapeutics that are as successful at reducing the severity of the disease and preventing death (e.g. Zelenko protocol, etc.)

      1. Both Zelenko and his protocol are highly disputed regarding reliability and verification. His claims are not "settled science" or even close to it.

      2. Treating the disease after its symptoms set in is useful, but is NOT a guaranteed way to "prevent or stop the spread" of the virus. People can and do spread the disease before the symptoms appear, and after the symptoms appear to some extent, even under good care.

      It is, thus, not unqualifiedly true that "there are other means" that will stop the spread. What we have are various alternatives that have a whole smorgasbord of varying evidences, probabilities, and effects toward affecting the epidemic, which must be evaluated on a basis of probable wights and values for a prudential judgment that cannot be ascertained as a moral definitive that there are (i.e. with certainty) alternatives to the vaccines to stopping the spread.

    5. I beg to differ. There are more than 60 studies, all but one showing that a protocol like the I-Mask+ protocol reduces hospitalization and death. I recall the reduction as being 86%, which is far superior to what the vaccines do (averaged over, say, six months).

      Your point #2 is true of vaccines as well as of early treatment protocols.

    6. There ARE over 60 studies on ivermectin:

      "Perhaps 70 to 100 studies have been conducted on the use of ivermectin for treating or preventing COVID-19; several dozen of them support the hypothesis that the drug is a plague mitigant."

      (see The Atlantic: )

      which is an added element to the MATH+ protocol.

      But they are not all good studies:

      "In our opinion, a bare minimum of five ivermectin papers are either misconceived, inaccurate, or otherwise based on studies that cannot exist as described. One study has already been withdrawn on the basis of our work; the other four very much should be."

      It's not just that some bad studies got published:

      To answer those questions, scientific studies were produced at record pace, peer-reviewed almost immediately after they were submitted or else put into the public domain via preprint as soon as they had been completed. Publishing science is slow; highly contagious diseases are fast.

      It’s not that, under such conditions, a few bad studies were bound to slip through the net. Rather, there is no net.

      I do not claim that "there is no EVIDENCE that ivermectin is beneficial" in dealing with COVID. There is. What I am saying is that just what benefits we are getting from it and from an I-MASK + protocol is not settled science, and a person can legitimately and reasonably be cautious and doubtful in prudential judgments on its effectiveness on an epidemiological basis. And thus there is not a definitive basis for conclusions about the vaccine being "unnecessary" for curbing the spread, with "other alternatives" being able to take up the entirety of the role intended for the vaccine to meet. Uncertainty is just the kind of situation we need to stand back from declaring definitive moral absolutes about.

      As a highlight to the difficulty of establishing conclusions as "settled science", let me give another example. In Dec. 2020, P. Kory et al published their study for the MATH+ protocol.
      Later, the study was retracted for serious concerns with the data and its interpretation:

    7. I don't have time to follow all the links you gave as I am on retreat. But I want to make some response immediately lest you unintentionally lead someone into neglecting a demonstrably effective remedy for Covid.

      'The Atlantic' is far from being a reliable source. Ivermectin has been shown to be extremely effective (>80% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths) by experience and observation. Check out Dr. Peter McCullough and Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, among many other front line doctors who have successfully treated thousands of Covid patients. Then look at the stats for Uttar Pradesh and middle Africa.

      In addition to these, what's certain is: a) that Ivermectin is safe, safer than many over-the-counter drugs. In fact it is over-the-counter in many countries; b) that it is an anti-viral that inhibits viral replication; c) that it is anti-inflammatory.

      Pfizer's new pill has been given emergency authorization and Merck's is about to get the same. There's no way they can be shown to be safe--they have no history. Anyone who trusts the results of the rushed Pharma tests is naive. And yet the US has committed to buying 10,000,000 doses for $5,290,000,000.

      Ah, yes. But the Atlantic is sure that ivermectin's efficacy is not 'settled science'. Do they mean like the 'settled science' that masks, lockdowns, and the vaccines will stop the pandemic?

    8. Ed wrote: "Most importantly, the signatories simply have no business presenting these claims as if Catholic orthodoxy required agreement with them."
      This response looks like an obvious red herring/ignoratio elenchi. The claims require agreement because they are (arguably, obviously) demonstrably true, not because they are matters of 'Catholic orthodoxy.' The general principles of the CDF need not be in question. It is the truth about how they actually apply to the present case that is addressed by the three points listed.

      "For another, the signatories are not only not experts on the medical matters in question, but are also not experts on who the best experts are."
      They're also not experts on who the best experts are on who the best experts are. And yet... They still have the right and responsibility to come to an informed determination of the truth of the matter, as best they can, and to speak and act accordingly. So it seems this is another thoroughly irrelevant point, unless you are willing to dissolve all rational discourse in the universal solvent of 'expert-skepticism.'

  27. Is this pandemic more analogous to a wildfire approaching a town, a new abortion clinic in a shopping center, or a radiation leak from a nuclear power plant? Depending on which analogy one's amygdala most recognizes, one could have very different prior expectations of the sort of police powers that are proper to a novel, dangerous, contagion. Arguments grounded in other analogies and their consequent expectations are unlikely to seem persuasive.

    Modern states secure the individual right of free association by clearing public space of general threats. In that way, individuals can work, shop, eat, etc together without danger.

    Persons spreading a dangerous disease are a general threat to others and thus to the right of free association. So, everyone has a right to a job, but employers have long been obliged not to let cooks with certain contagious illnesses prepare food so that their customers can exercise their right to eat it in safety. Straightforward resort to police powers to keep the uninfected safe is mere consistency with that and similar practices.

    The most reasonable objections to such consistency challenge the thresholds for resort to those powers. How harmful must the infection be? How likely must transmission be? How long will the threat remain? Every employer who has sent a cook with jaundice home has heard a cook doubt the answers. A physician's note, informed if not infallible, ordinarily settles the matter.

    With respect to the pandemic, those who insist on sanitation assess the harm as death or permanent injury, the likelihood as high, and eradication as possible if action is swift. Figuratively speaking, there are more employers and more cooks but the state duty remains what it always is.

    In this case, all burdened by sanitation question everything-- harm, likelihood, duration. And understandably so.

    As in war, the burdens are heavy, the situation changes rapidly, information about it overwhelms individuals, and strategic facts are only separated from opinion with time and skill. Yet, also as in war, mistakes can be very costly, experience can be helpful, and coordinated response to an invasion is better than doing nothing.

    Asking good faith questions of authorities and experts is a good thing. It exercises other civil rights, and is not especially partisan. Indeed, a virtuous cycle in which loyal but oppositional questions improve discovery, decision, and action is possible.

    But some objectors sound as though they favor a state too weak to guard the safety of those in public space. They deny, more or less explicitly, that civil authorities have the duty to assess risk and take protective action. If the public square regresses to a condition of danger, objectors appear to reason, then justice demands that all equally face the new risk of death or injury. If the state of nature threatens, better that all adapt to anarchy than that the state do anything inequitable.

    Implicitly, every man should decide for his sovereign self what to do about the wildfire that he sees or the radiation that he does not. Or perhaps objectors make an exception for biological hazards that they have not explained.

    Meanwhile, one recalls that critics of the social magisterium have historically objected that the Roman Catholic Church favors civil government that is too robust, even authoritarian. And some, like General Franco, have been confident that even fascism is well within its bounds. So, you see why one could be surprised to find serious Catholics who are so hostile to what usually seems to be a central function of government.

    Jesus said, "Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you." And you yourself have written memorably about St John Paul II and St Thomas on the virtue of patriotism. Again, opposition to a law or an order can be loyal and virtuous, but yet again one would expect to see at least some agape for those using power to conserve rights and save lives, faulty as their decisions and actions must surely be.

    Bowman Walton

  28. Postscript

    Thank you, Ed Feser,

    both for exploring middle ground bypassed by those attached to their poles, and for situating the whole matter in a wider vista.


  29. Hello, Ed.
    Thanks for, as usual, an excellent contribution to the discussion. I would like to make explicit something I think is implicit in your analysis—though perhaps I’m going further than you intended.

    You state “As I have argued, it is not wrong the take the vaccine” and “I don’t mean that they should get vaccinated if, after carefully considering the matter, they decide that vaccination is not for them”. I agree, juxta modum, with both statements, but I think the first is too broad and the second is too weak. I would say it is objectively *wrong* for *some people* to take the vaccine.

    The basic criteria for taking any vaccine are: necessity, safety, efficacy.

    1. The vaccines are not necessary for some. Healthy children are at very low risk of hospitalization and effectively zero risk of death. Adults without serious health issues (e.g., obesity, diabetes, compromised immune system) are at low risk of hospitalization and even lower risk of death. There are safe preventative and early treatment protocols which appear to be at least as effective if not more so than the vaccines.

    2. They are not safe. All vaccines have some risk for some people. These vaccines are not traditional vaccines. (Which is why the CDC changed its definition of a vaccine.) They have not been adequately tested for safety. The animal trials were skipped. (Other mRNA vaccines tested in animals have had disastrous results.) The stage 3 clinical trial, normally at least three years, was truncated to six months, and most of the control group was given the vaccine after three plus months, thus eliminating the control arm of the trial. Pfizer mis-represented some of the data and did not disclose that of the 22,000 persons in each arm of the trial, all-cause fatalities were higher in the vaccinated group.

    The VAERS indicates that serious adverse events, including deaths, were higher for these vaccines in one year than for all other vaccines combined in the thirty years VAERS has been implemented.

    There can no data on long-term adverse events. (Nor for Covid itself, but, with David, ‘I would rather fall into the hands of God than the hands of men’.)
    3. They are not effective. They prevent neither infection, transmission, hospitalization, nor death. They may diminish the seriousness of the disease but that makes the vaccinated more dangerous to others because: a) they can carry equivalent or greater viral loads than the unvaccinated, but if they are asymptomatic they will be unaware of their spreading the virus; and, b) they become incubators for escape variants which will infect both vaccinated and unvaccinated.

    My conclusion: it is morally wrong (not just ‘it’s not for me’) for some to take the serious risk of a vaccine of unproven safety, with minimal benefits for them, when there are safe alternative, morally acceptable options.

    1. Hello Fr. Fessio,

      Many thanks for your comment. Your points are helpful, though I would argue that they need qualification and/or can be proposed at best tentatively, and thus not in a way that would justify flatly asserting that vaccination would be wrong for all of the people who fall under the categories you’re describing. (But perhaps you’d agree with that.) To respond to each of the points in order:

      1. Re: the necessity condition, there are several issues here. First, we need to ask exactly what the vaccines are said to be either necessary or unnecessary for. To say that they can be taken only if necessary for avoiding death or hospitalization seems much too strong (though I am not claiming that that is what you are saying). Someone might get significantly more sick than he would from a flu (to the extent, say, that he will miss have to miss work for many days, be at risk of spreading the illness to others, etc.), but still not require hospitalization. Moreover, given that the virus tends to affect different people in different ways in a manner that is not always predictable, a person who is not in one of the obvious risk groups might still have some non-negligible chance of getting seriously ill. Furthermore, I think it overstates things to say that the vaccine has no efficacy in limiting spread. (More on that below.) Finally, as Frs. Sullivan and Pereira argue in their article, potential loss of employment or of the ability to stay in school would be serious harms of not getting vaccinated. (True, unlike health effects, these are not effects of the virus itself, but they are still outside the control of the person whose employment or education is threatened. That would, of course, be irrelevant if it was intrinsically immoral to take the vaccines, but it is not irrelevant given that it is not intrinsically immoral to take them.)

      2. I would not say flatly that “they are not safe.” I would say instead that people have raised some reasonable questions about their safety, which is a much weaker claim. We non-experts can only go on expert opinion and our own anecdotal evidence, and as I say in the original post, the experts who seem to me most reliable (for the reasons I gave there) hold that the vaccines are safe for most people. And while I know lots of people who’ve taken one of the vaccines, I can only think of one person I know who has had a side effect of any significance (and not a life-threatening one). My point is not that that by itself proves anything, but only that these are matters that it is difficult enough for experts to settle conclusively, let alone non-experts. And that seems to me to support both (a) getting rid of the mandates but also (b) letting people who are inclined to get vaccinated to judge for themselves, based on their own reading and consultation with their doctor, what they think of the safety issue (as opposed to flatly saying to them “It is too unsafe to make it morally justifiable to take”). But perhaps you’d agree with that and are just making the (perfectly reasonable and correct) point that safety issues need to factor into the moral decision-making.

      (continued below)

    2. (continued)

      3. I also would not agree that “they are not effective,” at least not without significant qualification. For one thing, my understanding based on what I’ve read is that while they do not have long-term efficacy in preventing infection and transmission, they do have some short-term efficacy in that regard. For another, since you allow that “they may diminish the seriousness of the disease,” I’m not sure why you say that they do not prevent hospitalization or death (since, obviously, diminishing the seriousness of the disease would make hospitalization and death less likely). Perhaps you mean only that they do not absolutely guarantee that someone will not die or need hospitalization. That’s true, but no one claims they absolutely guarantee that. The claim is rather that they significantly reduce the probability of hospitalization or death, and that seems to be true.

      Again, we non-experts can only go on expert opinion and anecdotal evidence here. The experts who seem to me most reliable (again, for reasons given in the main post) all hold that the vaccines have had great efficacy in reducing serious illness, hospitalization, and death. And where anecdotal evidence is concerned (for what it is worth), Covid spread through my own household not too long ago. Of the five of our six children who still live at home, none of them is vaccinated, and all got Covid. One of them (though only one) got seriously ill (my fifteen year old son, who got about as sick as he ever has been). I am vaccinated and got a very mild case (about like a 2-3 day long mild cold). My wife, who was vaccinated more recently than I was, did not get it at all – she not only never got any symptoms at all but tested negative twice – despite being in a house full of people with it. It does not seem reasonable to me to deny that the mildness of my case, and her not getting it at all, were because of the vaccine.

      Meanwhile, I know maybe 4-5 people who have gotten very seriously sick from Covid (i.e. to the point of needing hospitalization or nearly dying). I don’t personally know anyone who has actually died of it, though I do know people who know people who have died of it. My own anecdotal evidence thus squares with what the things I’ve read incline me to believe, viz. that while Covid-19 is not as dangerous for most people as was initially feared (and doesn’t support extreme measures like lockdowns etc.) it is still a very nasty illness and much worse than the flu; and also that the vaccines are safe for the vast majority of people and have had a major effect in reducing the seriousness of the illness.

      Again, my point isn’t that that this by itself proves anything, but rather that these are matters about which people can reasonably come to different judgments, so that it would be a mistake flatly to assert that the vaccines are not effective. But here too, maybe you would agree with that and intend only to make the (perfectly reasonable and correct) point that effectiveness must also factor into the moral decision-making.

    3. Hello (again), Ed.

      I appreciate your thoughtful reply. Based on it I suspect we’d agree on most propositions related to Covid—and we’d disagree on some matters of detail or emphasis.

      I agree we all have to make an informed judgment as to which experts we consider reliable. To the ones you mentioned—who are far from ‘fringe epidemiologists’ (Collins to Fauci)—I would add Dr. Robert Malone and Dr. Peter McCullough as well as the many scientists and doctors they cite favorably.

      I give very little weight to anecdotal evidence. That’s not science. And for every anecdote one can usually find an anti-anecdote.

      My claim was pretty minimal: it is wrong for *some people* to take the mRNA injections. But I’ll make a stronger, more specific claim: it is gravely wrong to require or permit vaccination in healthy young children. The benefit is miniscule—and because of Antigenic Original Sin, it may actually be harmful; the risk is not miniscule—especially when the adverse effects can last a (shortened) lifetime.

      Let me put my necessity, safety, efficacy argument another way. There are many serious studies, referred to be the experts you and I consider competent and trustworthy, that demonstrate there are prophylactic and early treatment protocols which are *more* effective and *safer* than the vaccines for the majority of people, i.e. those who are not at high risk because of age and compromised health. If true, this responds to your concerns about non-medical consequences of Covid (e.g. losing one’s job).

      These scientists and doctors may be wrong. But they may also be right. If they are right, then it is objectively wrong for some people to be vaccinated—healthy children certainly. If they are wrong but some persons come to the informed but mistaken judgment they are right, then it would still be subjectively wrong for those people.

      Finally, it looks like the omicron variant may be a game-changer in the debate. It’s still very early, but important studies such as those in Denmark and the UK are showing a *negative effectiveness* for the vaccines. I.e. you are *more* likely to be infected and to be hospitalized if you are vaccinated. If this continues to be the case, vaccination would not only be wrong but foolhardy.

    4. Hello again Fr. Fessio,

      Yes, it seems to me that it is only matters of detail we might disagree about – or, more accurately, about which I am more agnostic than you might be – where the details concern matters of empirical fact rather than any moral or theological principle. For example, I agree that it would be wrong for some particular person to take the vaccine if he knew that doing so would seriously put his health at risk. The question, then, for any particular person or class of people, is whether we do in fact know that the vaccines would seriously put their health at risk. Here resort to the opinion of experts is essential – but, of course, in turn raises the question of which experts to trust.

      Beyond urging the general sorts of considerations about deciding which experts to trust that I proposed in my original post, I don’t myself have much of interest to say. For example, regarding some of the issues you raise (e.g. the efficacy of certain prophylactic and early treatment methods, the possible relevance of original antigenic sin) I would say “Yes, those are important factors to consider” but would not myself make any flat assertions about those issues, because I don’t personally claim to know enough about them to do so.

      Re: anecdotal evidence, like I said myself, I don’t think it settles anything in this context. But it is not without value, especially when evaluating sweeping claims that touch on everyday human life. To take an example completely unrelated to Covid-19 vaccines, if someone were to assert that there are no significant innate behavioral differences between young boys and girls, most people would, just from their actual experience of dealing with children, judge that this is nonsense, and rightly so. In a scientific context we would want more than that, but that doesn’t mean that ordinary people should give up or suspend commonsense belief on this matter until scientific studies come along.

      Similarly, if (say) ten percent of the people I knew who took the vaccines had gotten seriously ill afterward, it would be hard not to doubt sweeping assertions to the effect that the vaccines are perfectly safe (as vaccine critics themselves would surely insist). But by the same token, if the more extreme critics of the vaccines insist that they are extremely dangerous, yet someone finds that in his own experience he knows lots of people who have taken the vaccines and none or almost none have suffered any bad effects, that cannot help but raise some doubt about the more extreme claims. But again, I’m not claiming that this by itself proves anything. It’s just one data point.

  30. The state has the authority to mandate vaccines under certain circumstances.
    People should take a vaccine under certain circumstances.

    The circumstances are a mix of moral duties that depend on expected outcomes.

    The present Covid vaccines were either developed or testing using aborted fetal cells so there is some remote connection to evil. The connection is too remote by itself to argue that it is sinful to take the vaccine. But there is still some element of cooperation with evil.

    Authorities shouldn't normally override the conscious of the rational individual and mandate a medication unless there is a compelling reason such as to prevent grave danger to other people. So it can be immoral to mandate a vaccine if that grave danger doesn't exist. If a person has reached that conclusion, although he cannot impose that conclusion on others, he should follow his conscious.

    So a person can use these 2 legitimate moral considerations for opposing taking the vaccine.

    The question then becomes what are the consequences for the individual and society if he refuses?

    It seemed that authorities thought the pandemic would be over when we had a vaccine. The implication was that it would prevent people from getting and spreading the disease. It seems now that it has at most a temporary effect of lessening the chance of contracting the disease and one can still spread it even if vaccinated. The fact that the number of people who died in 2021 after vaccines were introduced exceed the number in 2020 brings into question the effectiveness of the vaccines to prevent grave harm to society.

    The benefit to the individual is that it may or does reduce the severity of the symptoms. If one is especially in danger due to age and/or comorbidities that can be a compelling reason to take the vaccine. Other vaccinated people around you may spread it to you, but it could keep you out of the hospital. There is some slight chance of an adverse reaction, but probably not as high a risk as getting the virus with comorbidities. If too many people end up in the hospital, it is a bad thing. However, people who are not obese and without other comorbidities are unlikely to end up in the hospital and a large number of people who have been vaccinated end up there anyway.

    Since both vaccinated and unvaccinated can both spread the virus, getting vaccinated to stop the spread is not effective and so is not a moral plus.

    If one is at risk of going to the hospital and taking up space because of contracting the disease due to obesity one should perhaps get vaccinated. But that person should also have taken better care of himself to begin with, so there is some moral culpability on his part too. But overall, that may be a good reason to disregard the moral minuses.

    But what of the person who is not obese and has no comoridities and therefore is unlikely to end up in the hospital. The moral minuses of the remote connection with the evil of abortion along with a mandate that will not prevent grave harm to society or himself has to be weighed against any moral good. The only moral good being that he will possibly suffer somewhat reduced symptoms than if he were vaccinated. I suppose no person is required to resist something that will do either little harm or little good, but some people will choose to do no harm if there is little to no good to come of it.

  31. Dr Feser,

    Thanks for bringing up the threat of losing one's income. That overrides a lot of the moral objections and few people are in the position to resist. But it seems to me that it just makes the mandate even more unjust if exemptions are routinely denied it more or less puts a gun to the head of the employee.

  32. RE: the vast majority of people can handle Covid well.
    Well, the vast majority of people can handle the flu well, even measles BUT we have vaccines because some groups have a high severity rate and mortality rate.
    RE: Long term side effects.
    People confuse long term side effects of vaccines with medications that people take daily. Not the same thing. Long term side effects of "one and done" vaccines happen within the first 6 months (typically) because they are driven by the bodies immune system reaction to the vaccine (basically).
    Long term side effects that most people think of are applicable only to vaccines that are taken YEARLY and consistently (like the flu shot).

    1. People confuse long term side effects of vaccines with medications that people take daily. Not the same thing. Long term side effects of "one and done" vaccines happen within the first 6 months (typically) because they are driven by the bodies immune system reaction to the vaccine (basically).
      Long term side effects that most people think of are applicable only to vaccines that are taken YEARLY and consistently (like the flu shot).

      There is no definitive basis to say that all side effects from a "once and done" vaccine happen within 6 months, even if it is true that most of the effects come from the body's immune system reaction. There can be side effects - both from immune system and other systems - that simply take time to develop. More significantly, with an mRNA vaccine, which causes the body to PRODUCE the offending protein, (i.e. a new process without a long track record) may well have mechanisms that show effects much later. We don't know. We may suspect that there won't by many long-range side effects, we may even have good reason to set the probability of such things low. But that's not actual knowledge. This makes decisions about the cost-benefit ratio to be judgment calls of weighing a variety of many different probables, not that of simply ascertaining a fact or two.

  33. Good morning all! Hopefully I'm not getting this post in too late, but I wanted to hear thoughts on another angle. I got the original two shots back in the spring but I am having some real doubts about the booster (and not just because I'm not sure its necessary) based on the character of mRNA vaccines.

    I agree with the logic of what Dr. Feser is saying above, but I have a question: ceteris paribus, what should our bias be towards the vaccines? Above, Geocon mentioned there is a real moral/symbolic weight involved now in taking the vaccine, based on the cultural situation alone.

    However, there is another issue which I don't think has been a part of the discussion as of yet: what is an mRNA "vaccine?" As noted above, the CDC's definition of vaccine has changed because they operate on a different principle. A traditional vaccine introduces something like a pathogen into the body which it then responds to as it would to any other invader. An mRNA vaccine, as far as I have been able to tell, does something different to the body. It introduces mRNA, which directs the body to produce something it is not meant to produce (the spike protein) for the sake of triggering a response to its own large scale product. This intermediate step seems to introduce a novel "function" into our body processes and chemistry, and, even aside from potential risks involved, is arguably an early form of somatic modification. It is certainly not a genetic change or anything of the sort, but it is still something which does real violence to the way the body ought to function. We could argue that medicines and even diets operate in a similar way, but there seems to be something philosophically significant about the fact that we have injected a messenger RNA into the body for the sake of making it do something other than it usually does, for a purpose which is extrinsic to it unless something very specific (contact with the covid-19 pathogen) happens.

    Dr Feser has spoken at length about the unlikeliness of conspiracies, but seems to agree that there is a diabolical logic at work in our society at large. It works not through the intentional collusion of a handpicked few, but through the more or less unthinking cooperation of us all with the mechanistic assumptions handed down to us from early modernity. I will admit that this does not constitute an argument against getting the vaccine, but I pose it as a question: what does it mean when we consent to having our bodies extrinsically modified in the way that this vaccine does?

  34. Re: the vast majority...I agree. Let those who are highly vulnerable get the shots if they think the benefits are greater than the risks.

    Re: Long term....Not exactly true for mRNA vaccines which generate spike proteins that can permanently injure tissue in various parts of the body (heart, ovaries, brain). The effects may not present until later, e.g., myocarditis. (Or sooner as is likely the case in the twentyfold increase in cardiac arrest in the FIFA soccer players,

    1. The part of the spike protein being created is the part that allows the virus to attach itself to cells. The cases of myo and pericarditis happen within the first few weeks of taking the vaccine (more so the second dose).As for FIFA:

    2. “The cases of myo and pericarditis happen within the first few weeks of taking the vaccine”

      The spike protein damages heart tissue irreparably (scar tissue). “Cases” occur over time after the damage. The mortality rate is 50% in 5 years!
      ( I suspect the cases being reported ‘within the first few weeks’ are of those with pre-existing conditions or of those who put great stress on their hearts, e.g., professional athletes.

      Concerning the fact-checking by Reuters: If you follow the internal links related to FIFA (in the link you gave) you’ll find that Reuters is misleading.

      1. There were 21 FIFA players that died while playing in 2021. This was verified by a researcher who checked the reports of the individual players who died. The average for FIFA is 4.2 deaths per year, so this is close to a five-fold increase. Reuters counter-evidence: “Reuters presented the claims to FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, which reaffirmed its statement to Reuters in November: “FIFA is not aware of a rise in episodes of cardiac arrests….”. Well, the researcher is aware because he did the research and has the evidence.

      2. Reuters mixes false claims (108 FIFA deaths) with true ones (21 deaths), and then rebuts the false claim.

      3. “is not proof of a common link”. That’s correct, it’s not by itself ‘proof’. But let’s see some alternative explanation for a very significant statistical anomaly.

  35. “This intermediate step seems to introduce a novel "function" into our body processes and chemistry, and, even aside from potential risks involved, is arguably an early form of somatic modification.”

    That is correct. The mRNA enters the cell and uses the cells ribosomes to produce a form of the SarsCov-2 spike protein, which exits the cell and provokes an immune response. The spike protein itself is toxic, so you’re not only introducing foreign mRNA, you are indirectly introducing a toxin.

    However, I think this is morally licit. There is a famous adage: The dose makes the poison. Many (most?) medications are toxic if the dosage is too high. So causing your cells to produce a toxic spike protein may be licit if the ‘dosage’ is right.

    When we take, say Zinc and Vitamin D3, as a prophylactic to viral disease (highly recommended by many good doctors) they go into the cell also and promote functions that reduce or prevent viral replication.

    There is a distinction which may be morally relevant. The mRNA injected is not ‘natural’ (like Zinc and D3) but genetically modified. Whether the substances are introduced by injection or ingestion I think is not morally relevant.

    “It is certainly not a genetic change or anything of the sort,”

    That’s not always true. There is a process called ‘reverse transcription’. Normally mRNA is copied from DNA, but it can happen—and has happened—that some of the codons in the mRNA replace codons in the DNA and thus alter the DNA. I don’t know how frequently this occurs, but there is some risk.

    1. Slight adjustment: the mRNA vaccine induces the body to produce a portion spike protein, not the whole thing. That's as I have read, at least.

      Aside from that slight fix, I concur with Fr. F's points.

    2. Yes, the part of the protein that causes the virus to "attach" to the cells. A "harmless" part. With that the body produces antibodies to all that protein part.

    3. This is not correct. mRNA vaccines encode for the full-lenght s-protein, not just RBD for example..

  36. Great post, thanks! There is nothing so controversial as common sense.

    The Covid cult; what the historians will write.

  37. In this holiday season, I hope everyone stay safe from the response to Covid.

  38. The situation in my circle of Canadians is much different than opposing the vaccine due to right of conscience. Many faithful Catholics are opposing the vaccine here on account of not wanting to be mandated to do it or due to personal health concerns. Is this a good reason to refuse to be vaccinated? Should we maintain freedom of choice for choice’s sake? And can concerns about one’s own health really be good grounds for refusing to partake in something that does a social and personal good as well, as it does with the covid vaccine. Specifically, only a very small number of serious reactions have occurred in our country, yet avoiding serious covid and reducing the spread is such a great good. Would this not embody the self sacrificial character we see as being noble in the likes of a coal miner who risks his own health for his family? More than that, the self sacrificial character a Catholic should embody?

  39. Dear Dr. Feser.
    I've been following her blog for a long time, and I haven't always found myself in agreement with her on some topics. At the same time, I have respect and confidence in his evaluations
    and in her rigid orthodoxy and independence.
    Like many other well-known theologians whom some call (erroneously) "traditionalists", even with covid and vaccines you have maintained a Catholic view of the question, warning everyone
    from the individualistic and conspiratorial drifts of certain so-called positions "no-vax" and from the enormous contradictions that derive from relativism that transpires from these uncompromising positions against the covid vaccine which, for all intents and purposes, seem to be more closely linked
    to the opposition to the papacy of Francis which based on objective data, given that the same positions had not emerged on the judgment that the Church had given on other vaccines in the past.
    And exactly like many other well-known theologians, who like you are authors of blogs and articles, I am sure that you will have been partly amazed by how many, among your regular readers and commentators, have taken this rigorist drift on covid vaccines.
    Evidently, as often happens, when critical positions of certain papal initiatives of the past are supported (arguing them), they also attract, among their public, many of those who think only for ideology and who, instead of reflecting on the reasons, love to divide the world
    in good and bad, always positioning himself on the side of the good ones.
    Don't be too disappointed to find that such a high percentage of her followers turned out this way. Unfortunately this is inevitable, where the internet allows you to put the words of scholars and professionals on the same level with those said by people who, before all this, would have spoken only to a few friends in the pub, over a pint of beer. . It is also the fault of some intellectual and religious "people's chief", who uses his culture to nourish them, establishing himself as a "true Catholic".
    At the same time he is not afraid of losing some "fans", perhaps reacting harshly to comments that are really exaggerated in the manner, in the tone and in the substance. Whoever divides humanity into blacks and whites certainly deserves to be divided as well. Whoever judges you, for agreeing with Francis and the Church, on the appearance of covid vaccines, as if you were a person in favor of abortion and its use in some commercial way, must be treated as it deserves with severity and called with the name that befits those who divide the Church.
    I wish you to keep your lucidity and patience also for the future.
    Happy New Year.

  40. The dichotomy between "everyone MUST get the Covid vaccine" and "everyone MUST refuse it" simply does not exist. Or rather, those who say everyone should refuse are such a minority of those refusing the vaccine for themselves, saying it's a systemic issue with the refusers is like saying white national socialism on the right is a big problem. (News flash, it's not, in either case).

    1. You are mistaken. See pp. 1037-38 of the article by Frs. Sullivan and Pereira, linked to in the original post, for a list of some of the public statements that have been made condemning the Covid-19 vaccines as intrinsically immoral, by people who include several prominent bishops who are influential within traditionalist and conservative Catholic circles. And I've seen first-hand the influence such statements have had on people. Note also how Trump has been publicly booed a couple of times now by his own followers just for saying that he has gotten the vaccine and recommending that others get it, even though he opposes forcing anyone to get it. The extreme position is not a straw man and not as rare as you suppose.

  41. For example, as Ioannidis notes in the interview linked to above, the idea that mandatory vaccination of children might benefit the elderly is entirely speculative rather than grounded in solid evidence.

    We have seen vaccination of children have this effect regarding a dozen other communicable diseases. To the degree this statement is true (in that we have had very little time to measure the effects of child vaccination), it is even more speculative, and less grounded in evidence, that there would be no protection.

    Bhattacharya and Gupta note that while the vaccine is very good at mitigating the effects of Covid-19 and thereby making it much less deadly, it is not so good at preventing transmission of the virus.

    While it's not *as* effective (it's hard to beat 99%) at preventing transmission as in preventing death, it's still *very* effective at preventing transmission.

    In studies conducted before the emergence of the Delta variant, data from multiple studies in different countries suggested that people vaccinated with mRNA COVID-19 vaccines who develop COVID-19 generally have a lower viral load than unvaccinated people.(157, 165-169) This observation may indicate reduced transmissibility, as viral load has been identified as a key driver of transmission.(170) Studies from multiple countries found significantly reduced likelihood of transmission to household contacts from people infected with SARS-CoV-2 who were previously vaccinated for COVID-19.(171-176) For the Delta variant, early data indicate vaccinated and unvaccinated persons infected with Delta have similar levels of viral RNA and culturable virus detected, indicating that some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 may be able to transmit the virus to others.(163, 164, 177-180) However, other studies have shown a more rapid decline in viral RNA and culturable virus in fully vaccinated people (96, 177, 180-182). One study observed that Delta infection in fully vaccinated persons was associated with significantly less transmission to contacts than persons who were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.(181)

    Kulldorff notes that those who have already had Covid-19 have much greater immunity to future infection than those who have been vaccinated, so that there is little point in vaccinating those who have had it.

    Kulldorf is wrong here. Not only are those who have been vaccinated, but have not had the disease, better protected against subsequent infections, but also those who have been infected and then vaccinated are even better protected than those who are in just one of the groups.

  42. Dr. Feser,

    Thank you very much for this critique of excesses on both sides.

    One minor point regarding the "double standard" of "no similarly widespread and passionate outcry against vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and hepatitis" before the pandemic:

    My wife points out that this has been a longstanding and recurring debate among Catholic mothers online. One interesting difference between those other vaccines and the one for COVID-19 is that they are primarily childhood vaccines, and thus tend to be a parental issue (with the burden of decision falling on the mother in many cases). The COVID vaccine, on the other hand, affects adults more widely and is much more discussed in public media, and thus gets a lot more widespread outcry (on both sides).

    This doesn't mean there isn't still a double standard in certain spheres, of course. And objections to childhood vaccines on these grounds are subject to the same criticisms you raise. But outcry against a vaccine on the grounds of its connection to abortion has mainly been widespread among certain Catholic circles, and Catholic moms make up a significant portion of that. The potential for scandal to others outside this niche still holds, but the fact that this debate has been happening, albeit in a realm less visible than Twitter, is a nuance that may mitigate the double standard accusation somewhat.

  43. I won't name names but I have witnessed some once prominent orthodox Catholics claim the Jab is "the Mark of the Beast". Yeh...WRONG! This person told me how Bishop Schneider said the Jabs where immoral even thought they do have a merely distant material connection to abortion victims.
    Well to be fair I have not heard Schneider claiming the wee Jabs are the Mark of the Beast, never the less his imprudent views are IMHO as dangerous to the souls of Catholics as any ambiguity or irresponsible pastoral policy of the Holy Father's.

    If yer gonna be a critic of the Pope you DARN WELL BETTER better be above board or on yer bike! Like I said of Vigano I will say of Schneider "Ye had ONE JOB OLD MAN!". Ya dropped the wee ball.

    Anyway I say given the infallibility and indefectability of the Catholic Church that She could NEVER teach us it is licit to "receive the Mark of the Beast". I don't care if Archbishop "Weak Knees" Weakland himself becomes Pope Francis II. IT WON'T HAPPEN! Matt 16:18 Jesus is nor a liar!

    Now lately I have become way more critical of the Holy Father. I am no fan of him nerfing the Old Mass like he did as that was uncalled fur. I dinny think he is doing a good job at all. BUT there are limits how far yer can go in being critical and this is the line in the sand.

    Mind you I HATE mandates with the fire of 10000 suns. I believe in freedom of choice here and I think there are dark forces invading the Vatican these days. But this is a bridge too far.

    Anyway that is my rant at the close of the year. Keep up the good work Dr. Feser. Yer the man.

    Blessing and Happy New Year.

    1. Could you provide a translation of that please?

    2. @Anon

      Lets see:

      "There are some voices among us orthodox catholics that are defending that the vaccines are the Mark of the Beast. That is clearly false, for the Church can't teach error.

      One person said also that Bishop Schnider defended that the vaccines are immoral thanks to their connection to abortion, a wrong opnion. While one can't atribute this opinion to the bishop, he does tend to denounce the Church leaders faillings on a imprudent way that is hurtful to the faithful. While the Vatican is not on his best days and our pope is not doing a good job, our criticism of they needs to be based on the truth and stated on a prudent way."

      It loses it charm, no?

  44. I'm sure this question has been answered before, and I just haven't been around to see it. I hope you will indulge me.

    For those who feel that a long-past abortion taints the vaccinations morally, do you feel the same about organs donated from murder victims? More specifically, if person A kills person B, and there is no prior connection either has to person C, is it still morally wrong for person C to accept the corneas (as an example) of person B if they are aware that A has killed B?

  45. I agree with the article but think that there is another point that really needs considering, which is that it is all but certain that abortions are still going on to provide 'material' for research with a view to producing future vaccines and medicines. Refusing to take the vaccine is a way of protesting against this, as if sufficient numbers of people do so the practice will eventually be stopped. Taking this stance (which I do) does not imply that taking the vaccine is intrinsically wrong and respects the rigght of others to take a different view. The position strikes me as similar to that of a conscientious objector when faced with conscription.

    The position thus differs from using the kind of knowledge that the Nazis derived from their experiments. Those, disgusting as they were, have stopped.

  46. Hi Ed,
    It's a good balanced post in light of the madness we have seen this last 2 years.

    I would like to suggest it time we question the very premise that vaccination rests on, which is that germs and viruses are the cause of disease.
    There is much research and evidence available for anyone to look at, that suggests they are not.
    The polarity of pro/anti vax is dissolved in this way because other approaches would be taken to prevent and treat the syndromes we suffer.

    Personally, we did everything the gov told us for the first year and then saw for ourselves how the advice and data was not matching experienced reality. 2 years on, and close family members who are triple jabbed are now poorly, and 'testing positive'. Very confusing.

    Hard to work out sometimes if it is incompetence or outright evil at work in all this.

  47. It was a scamDemic, period. Malicious and pre mediated mass murder and totalitarianism. Health was the pretext. All lies. The proof is here: wake up: watch all 7 days: