Catholic Teaching and Immunization Policy


I immunize my children and am very glad to live in a time and place where I don’t have to send them to an early grave from vaccine-targeted diseases. At the same time, I struggle with this issue as a Catholic: Unless you can guarantee with 100% unequivocal certainty that 100% of vaccines are 100% free of serious risk, a feat that science could simply never support, then mandatory vaccination will necessarily require that children suffer or perhaps die for the Herd, “the greater good” of disease prevention, whatever you want to call it. In my mind, this is a utilitarian and cynical view of humanity that I’d think would run counter to the Catholic faith. What is an acceptable number of children to take a hit for the Herd? Is one child one too many? A handful? A hundred?

The medical exemption is available but not foolproof. What if the child reacts to the first dose, before there’s knowledge of needing an exemption? What if it’s an unexpected reaction to a subsequent dose? Maybe it’s a reaction, and maybe the child just broke into seizures (for example) coincidentally. But there are simply too many unknowns to proceed without any caution taken.

You could rightfully retort that there’s another side of the equation, the risk that children will catch and suffer or die from the vaccine-targeted disease. But that there’s risk either way seems like a reason enough to keep the government outside of such a complex risk-benefit equation.

These are important questions to ponder especially as Catholic schools are increasingly refusing to welcome students missing so much as one dose of one vaccine. I’m curious to hear thoughts on this perspective, ideally from a Catholic or other faith-based perspective.
(Keep it civil, please! I’ll be waving flags ruthlessly if things get out of hand).


Do you know the mortality/morbidity rate for current vaccines, or is this conjecture?


It’s hypothetical. Unless there’s definitive 100% proof of absolute immunity from serious reactions (“serious” is the key word here - I’m not talking temporary soreness at the injection site), we must assume at least one for the sake of argument. I’m curious what figures for morbidity/mortality would be bioethically acceptable.


Vaccine risks are insignificant compared to the risks from the diseases they prevent. Most drugs and medical procedures carry some risk. Treatment and prevention always involves some risk/benefit analysis.


Nothing is 100% risk-free, but vaccines are pretty darn safe.


Parents that don’t immunize their children are very fortunate that the majority of parents do vaccinate their children. If they didn’t we would see many of the illnesses we used to see eradicated almost with vaccines (My mother had polio and rejoiced when the vaccine for Polio was out just in time for me to be immunized against having to deal with an illness that can be prevented) return again.

It to me is a crime not to immunize children.



As the child of an anti-vaxxer, I support this message.


The rates of serious adverse reactions are very small. They will vary from vaccine to vaccine. I don’t know of a composite rate. No medicine or vaccine is 100% safe, and none are 100% effective. My choice has always been to accept recommendations of the health care provider.

The bioethic question may be more relevant in looking at the acceptability of certain vaccines produced using human cell lines derived from aborted fetuses (addressed by the Vatican, and many Catholic healthcare systems).


No human activity is without risk. If you do not vaccinate because of risk, we should not allow or allow our children people to drive, climb ladders, live in houses, eat, drink, sit still, walk or run. What you do is minimise risk. There is a whole library full of evidence that this has been, and is, done to a very high level with vaccines.


I’m seeing a lot of pro-vaccine talking points but they are sidestepping the case made in my original post. Anyone care to take a stab (jab?) at it?


I can see where you are coming from, but vaccination is meant to protect the individual being immunized AND the public. So I wouldn’t say it is utilitarian. We don’t vaccinate children knowing that the child will die but do it anyway because we think it is a necessary evil. We vaccinate them to prevent them from getting sick, knowing that there is a small chance that of side effects.
But everything carries a risk. No drug or treatment is 100% effective, and nothing is 100% risk free. In the case of vaccines, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Many diseases that once killed many people are now rare.


See my post above.


A bigger problem I see is that many vaccines are made from aborted baby stem cells.


Actually, your post above does not address the utilitarian nature of coercive vaccination policies, i.e. forcing children into an act of indemnified medical risk-taking before they are allowed access to schools, daycares, summer camps, etc.


It’s an important issue, to be sure. But at least for this thread, I’d like to avoid this particular rabbit trail.


To attain the goals of coercive vaccination policies, all children would be subject to mandatory medical risk-taking with the understanding that some will have to take a hit to protect others. What is an acceptable “hit” in your mind?


There are about 10-12. Some have alternatives, some do not.


Which specific vaccine?


I would say that from a Catholic perspective, there is not stab.

From the National Catholic Bioethic center:

One must follow a certain conscience even if it errs, but there is a responsibility to inform one’s conscience properly. There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good.

The only question the Church has ever weighed in the matter is that of past associations with embryonic stem cell research. Separate out that “rabbit,” there remains no Catholic position allowing refusal. Refusing to vaccinate based on risk is not even on the Catholic radar. Rather, the Catholic Church has always taught that we are interconnected with society and not allowed to act in self-interest in a way that is more harmful to others.

I guess there might be some room for objection by a parent based on risk alone, but such a position should also forfeit any right to education with other children, be it in a public or private school.


Vaccination should never be mandatory.

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