Catholic and Anglican archbishops told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age that while it was ethical for people with concerns to take the AstraZeneca vaccine if necessary, they should be entitled to request a different jab.
On Friday a spokesman for Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said he was a strong advocate of vaccinations but “like any medicine they must be safe and ethically obtained”.
“Fortunately, the Novavax and Pfizer vaccines will be made available in Australia, they seem if anything to have higher success rates, and they are morally uncompromised,” he said.
“Anyone who is concerned about the ethics of the AstraZeneca vaccine should be confident in requesting an alternative, but also be confident that it is not unethical to use the AstraZeneca vaccine if there is no alternative reasonably available.”
A spokeswoman for the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli said the church would clarify its ethical position on the vaccines next week, but in the meantime referred to his remarks in a letter to the faithful last year.
“Where there is a choice, we encourage people to use a vaccine that has not been developed using
human fetal cells deriving from abortion,” he wrote at the time. “The bishops accept that the use of an ethically compromised vaccine is acceptable if no other option is available.”
Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies was among the religious leaders who signed a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year complaining the AstraZeneca vaccine “makes use of a cell line cultured from an electively aborted human fetus”.
“I was one of the church leaders who urged the Prime Minister to give Australians a choice, in order to assure the highest vaccination rate possible,” Archbishop Davies said on Friday.
“I welcome the fact that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for distribution in Australia since this vaccine is free from ethical concerns in its production. This is a matter of individual choice for each Australian but I want to encourage widespread vaccination in our population throughout 2021.”
Asked about the archbishops’ comments, the federal health department referred The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age to remarks by secretary and former chief medical officer Brendan Murphy on February 4 in which he said most people would not have a choice of vaccines.
“In the main, there won’t be a choice, and I think both vaccines are extremely good, and I would be very happy to have either of them,” Professor Murphy said.
About 70 per cent of Australians report some kind of religious affiliation in the census, including about 50 per cent who identify as Christian, though not all would hold concerns about abortion or the use of an aborted fetus in vaccine production.
A spokesperson for Australian Christian Churches, which has more than 375,000 Pentecostal followers, said the ACC “does not hold an official ethical position on the use of vaccines and encourages individuals to make a decision based on personal conscience”.
Church newsletters have also contained commentary raising concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine. For example, in the December issue of the Sydney Anglican magazine Southern Cross, Bishop Chris Edwards warned of “problems” with the vaccine due to its use of the aborted cells.
“The ethical issues around this are very complex,” he wrote.
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Michael Koziol is deputy editor of The Sun-Herald, based in Sydney.