Nearby states have rapidly expanded vaccine eligibility, even as some doubt the shots’ efficacy and morality
Notre Dame president John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. announced Thursday evening that the university had received approval from the state to operate a COVID vaccine clinic for all students on campus beginning in mid-April. Jenkins stated that the Indiana Department of Health has assured the administration that the university would receive enough supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to inoculate every undergraduate, professional, and graduate student with both required doses by the end of the semester in late May. This news comes as vaccine administration has accelerated around the country, and is expected to aid in combating the ongoing spread of the coronavirus on campus and in the greater Michiana area.
The rapid development of vaccines against COVID-19 has been one of the great achievements of medical science during the pandemic and is a key part of President Biden’s plan to combat the spread of the disease. On March 19, the United States exceeded Biden’s goal of “100 million vaccine doses in 100 days,” before the President’s 60th day in office. As of 6:00a.m. on March 25, CDC data showed that 133,305,295 doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in the United States out of 173,525,335 doses distributed.
This data includes all three vaccines currently approved for emergency use by the FDA: the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. All three have demonstrated one hundred percent efficacy in preventing both deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19, though the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were about 95 percent effective in preventing symptomatic cases, while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was only around 66 percent effective in the same regard. However, the advantages of the latter vaccine are that it only requires one dose, is much cheaper, and can be stored at refrigerator temperatures rather than in ultra-cold freezers.
For the first few months of the vaccine rollout, supply from the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing the shots was the primary bottleneck. However, as these companies have ramped up their production capacity, the backlog of available vaccine doses has continued to grow, suggesting that in the near future demand for the vaccine will be the limiting factor.
To meet this supply surge, many states surrounding the Michiana area have rapidly expanded the categories of people eligible to receive a vaccine. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced on March 12 that all residents of age 16 and up would be eligible beginning April 5. Other nearby states quickly followed suit: Ohio, not to be outdone by their rival to the north, announced days later that all adult residents would be eligible on March 29. Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker announced March 18 that universal adult eligibility would occur on April 12.
The state of Indiana, on whose vaccine rollout the Notre Dame community directly depends, opened eligibility to all residents age 40 and above on March 22. One day later, Governor Eric Holcomb announced that the vaccine would become available to all Indiana residents ages 16 and older beginning Wednesday, March 31, citing a large vaccine supply increase occurring during that time. This surge likely led to the announcement of the vaccination of students at colleges and universities throughout the state, including Notre Dame.
Of course, no matter how much state governments expand eligibility, the populace will still need to want the vaccine for its effects to be realized. Several recent polls have shown that a majority of Americans have either already received a vaccine or plan to get one once it is made available to them, but there is still a sizable minority who will refuse to do so.
One concern that some of those hesitant to receive the vaccine have involves the ethics of receiving the shot. Specifically, they are concerned with the use of cell lines derived from aborted or miscarried fetuses in vaccine production and testing. According to an analysis of several worldwide vaccines by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an affiliate of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines did not make use of fetal cell lines in their production, though some tests made use of the HEK-293 kidney cell line, which is derived from a fetus aborted in 1972. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine, on the other hand, made use of the proprietary PER.C6 retinal cell line, which was developed from a fetus aborted in 1985, in the production and testing of their vaccine.
These facts led the Archdiocese of New Orleans in late February to label the Johnson and Johnson vaccine as “morally compromised,” and urged Catholics to receive either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines instead. Days later, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB, issued their own statement, emphasizing that, if given the choice, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine should be avoided. If not given a choice of vaccine, however, the USCCB cited a document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published in December that stated “when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”
However, the same document noted that “the licit use of such vaccines does not and should not in any way imply that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses,” and encouraged governments and pharmaceutical companies to “produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated.”
Beyond the ethical concerns regarding the fetal cell lines, the Vatican’s instructive document also encouraged getting a vaccine in support of the common good, while maintaining that vaccines must not be forced: “practical reason makes evident that vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary. In any case, from the ethical point of view, the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good.”
It is unclear if any of this direction from the Vatican and the USCCB influenced Notre Dame’s acquisition of Pfizer-BioNTech doses for its student vaccination campaign. It must be noted, however, that vaccine doses in the area are only delivered through either the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program or through Indiana’s state government to county health departments and hospitals, and in the university’s case it was through the latter program in partnership with the Indiana Department of Health. Thus, it is unlikely that Notre Dame had any influence in the decision of which of the three COVID-19 vaccines it ended up receiving. Regardless, it is clear from Church teaching and the university’s advice that receiving any vaccine is an act in support of the common good as the nation fights to free itself of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luke Koenigsknecht is a sophomore from Grand Rapids, Michigan studying electrical engineering. He can often be found in the Knights of Columbus building. In his spare time, he enjoys reading as well as playing games or solving puzzles. He can be reached at email@example.com.