Weekly COVID-19 testing a ‘good’ alternative to vaccine mandate, bioethicist says
by Matt Hadro
Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 16:00 pm
As the Biden administration prepares to require COVID-19 vaccinations at many workplaces, a Catholic bioethicist urged the administration to keep an alternative to vaccinations in place – weekly testing.
Last Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would require employers with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, or ensure weekly negative COVID-19 tests. The emergency rule is being developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Labor Department.
Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said the alternative of weekly COVID-19 testing is “good” for people who are opposed to receiving COVID-19 vaccines out of conscience.
“We hope that will definitely be there,” he said, “that individuals could have the choice of getting weekly testing as opposed to the vaccine.”
“Because that, I think, is a very appropriate way to achieve the same end without having anyone’s conscience being coerced or violated.”
Catholics are more vaccinated against COVID-19 than any other religious group, according to a new Pew Research Center report. However, some Catholics have expressed reservations or opposition to receiving COVID-19 vaccines because of their connection to abortion.
The three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States all have a connection to aborted fetal tissue. They use cell lines derived from fetal tissue that was obtained from babies believed to have been aborted in the 1970s, although only one of the vaccines – produced by Johnson & Johnson – used the controversial cell lines both in testing and production. The other two vaccines, produced by Pfizer and Moderna, used the cell lines in some tests.
The Vatican’s Congrgation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a note in December 2020 stating that use of COVID-19 vaccines with connections to the cell lines is morally permissible, if no ethical option is available.
“The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation” with the abortions “is not obligatory,” the Vatican said, “if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent–in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.”
The congregation went on to state that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.” For those refusing the vaccines out of conscience, however, they must take other steps to prevent transmitting the virus, the Vatican said.
Weekly COVID-19 testing, Meaney said, helps further this stated goal of the unvaccinated taking steps to stop the spread of the virus. Testing, he maintained, “shouldn’t be overly burdensome,” pointing to Biden’s promise last week to expand the availability of low-cost testing.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center has opposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates without exemptions for conscience.
A “major concern,” Meaney said, is any vaccination requirement with a “strong sanction” to it, such as the loss of one’s job for failing to comply.
Mandates “tend to come with a great deal of pressure, and unless they do include exemptions or alternatives, then they can be coercing peoples’ consciences, which is a bad thing to do, from a Catholic perspective,” he told CNA.
Biden’s order last week also required federal executive branch employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free,” Biden said in remarks at the White House on Sept. 8.
“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us,” he said to unvaccinated Americans.
Meaney said that such rhetoric toward the unvaccinated is counter-productive, as it “lends itself to scapegoating or shaming individuals.”
“What we would hope” is for people to be more serene and charitable towards others, he said.
“It’ll just make the situation worse, if people start venting their anger and trying to punish people who have different views, then these kinds of things tend to escalate,” he said.
“And it certainly doesn’t contribute to good civil harmony, and even within families – disputes, et cetera – there needs to be a lot of healing and understanding and charity, rather than kind of giving way to anger or frustration.”