Vaccinations and Tender Consciences

Posted on May 18, 2021 By

by Rachel MacNair

I’m about to make some heavy criticisms of the way the Covid vaccines came to be, so I start by saying I’ve now gotten both of my Moderna vaccinations. I encourage everyone qualified to be socially responsible to the community by getting theirs as well. Failing to do so, under current circumstances, is taking part in a major massive threat to life.

But as for the criticism, I start by observing that it was large corporations that came up with the vaccines. It had to be; smaller outfits don’t have the wherewithal to do something so complicated.

Yet people in very large groups can so easily fall into mind-numbing bureaucracy. Large corporations get us huge military projects that use up resources and hurt the environment for death-dealing machines that shouldn’t exist. Large corporations lobby to lower their taxes and therefore to cut desperately needed social spending. They also underpay their workers, so poverty increases. Large corporations are the major polluters of the environment; as individuals, we don’t do nearly so much, and when we do, it’s usually because of what large corporations sell us.

One major problem on the vaccines, as I see it, is that the large corporations that came up with them have shown similar callousness by using fetal cell lines somewhere in the process. Moderna and Pfizer used it in testing, but not in production. Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca used it in production (see An Ethics Assessment of COVID-19 Vaccine Programs). The fetal cells themselves aren’t in the final product, so no one need fear that they’re getting the fetal cells injected in their arms. Nevertheless, I resolved not to get the J & J and to hold out for the ones that only used it in testing. It didn’t matter since Moderna was what I was offered, but still, I had resolved that.

The baby that was killed and then used for the cell line was killed decades ago. I’m not a Catholic – I’m a Quaker – but  Catholic arguments I’ve heard are: we aren’t actually materially participating in abortion, nor making any more abortions happen. If there were an alternative that had no use of the fetal cell line at all, of course we’d make a point of using that. But there isn’t – just the distinction in how much they did it. We all have to use products that have some evil in them – for example, we use buildings that were built by enslaved people.  We aren’t in any way supporting, or failing to oppose, the horrific evil of slavery by continuing to use those buildings. Most important of all, the massive life-saving to be achieved by the vaccine is absolutely, absolutely necessary.

I buy those arguments, or I wouldn’t have taken the vaccine. But there are Catholic people and others who are aghast at the abortion connection of the vaccines and therefore dead set against them.

Of course there are. 

The health researchers should have expected that. This is the real world.

The response of many pundits has been to try to argue such people into dispensing with their tender consciences on this point, and to take the vaccine anyway. I assert they’re arguing with the wrong people.

We as a society always knew that a mass vaccination campaign requires that people be persuaded to take the shots. Health promoters need to talk many people into it.

Therefore, it’s grotesquely, grotesquely irresponsible to have used anything in production that might add to vaccine hesitancy. Add to it by leaps and bounds. Add to it by maybe millions of people. Specifically, people of tender conscience.

No, the researchers ran roughshod over those consciences. The very mindset that allowed the researchers to discount the lives of unborn children goes with the mindset of discounting people of tender conscience. As if we don’t exist. Or shouldn’t.

Therefore, though the researchers could have used alternative methods that would have avoided leaving so many people queasy, they forged ahead with them. Then, upon discovering that there are people that they’ve inflicted this burden on, rather than realizing what a humongous mistake they made and expressing contrition, they argue with the people of tender conscience that they just shouldn’t have the tender conscience. Those researchers themselves don’t, and they’ve made non-persons out of all of us who do.

They weren’t paying attention to this most basic detail when using the fetal cell line. They argued against opponents of using it, inasmuch as they paid attention to us at all.

So now that they discover a problem – one that should have been foreseeable – their idea of a solution is to bully us into accepting their definition of the situation instead of our own.

We as a society are stuck in the situation, and we can’t change the past. But all arguments that we as advocates for life ought to behave as if our current situation is a given run aground for me when that past could have been different if large corporations had been more responsible.

I could handle their arguments for the current vaccines better if they realized their mistake, apologized, learned from the experience, and promised not to do it any more. Without that, the arguments from people who discount both babies and their defenders can never sit well with me. I’ve gotten my vaccinations and encourage others to do the same, but I resent the disrespect toward me and my group that their production decisions entailed.

That disrespect is deadly, because it fosters the predictable result of greater vaccine hesitancy and resistance.


For more of our blog posts on the pandemic, see:

Mask Up: It’s Pro-Life

Post-pandemic: What Worries Me

A Healing Metaphor: Pandemic as War

The Random Death Sentence: COVID in Prisons and Jails / Sarah Terzo

Masking Up but Not Shutting Up: Defending Freedom of Speech during a Pandemic

#SayHisName: The Medical Murder of Michael Hickson

Angela Kennedy  (1963-2020)


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