Interfaith leaders share perspectives on morality of COVID-19 vaccines

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Faith leaders from the Quad Cities gather on Zoom April 20 to discuss perspectives on COVID-19 vaccination.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Many rumors are circulating about the COVID-19 vaccine, said Imam Bachir, the religious leader of the Islamic Center of the Quad Cities. “Some of them relate to medical issues and others to religious ones.”

On April 20, religious leaders from different faiths came together in a virtual presentation to “lend voices to clarifying the situation, demystifying perceptions and encouraging the community to take charge of their health,” Bachir explained. Jewish, Protestant, Unitarian and Catholic leaders participated in the effort, hosted by Quad Cities Interfaith.

Dr. Louis Katz, medical director of the Scott County Health Department, kicked off the discussion by offering an update on COVID-19 cases in the Quad Cities. He said cases started increasing around March 1 and “really took off” around St. Patrick’s Day. The area is currently experiencing a plateau of cases that is three times higher than early March numbers. Young adults make up the largest share of these new infections; last spring, primarily older individuals were affected. “This represents the impact of intensive vaccination among older people in January and February.” Seventy-five percent of older and high-risk individuals in the Quad Cities are now immunized. However, the cases involving younger people remain a concern, as “not all have benign, mild courses” of the disease.

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Katz also spoke about vaccine opposition and advised faith leaders on how to help people feel more comfortable about getting vaccinated. He said the number of people receptive to vaccination has steadily increased since December, especially among minorities. “Now, it’s pretty even among races,” Katz said. National polls have found vaccine hesitancy falling overall.

Katz believes the most persuasive argument against vaccine hesitancy is that vaccines are “nearly 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death.” However, this argument is more effective for individuals who are unsure about the vaccine rather than those who are not receptive at all.

Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, reiterated in Spanish and English the Vatican’s view that, despite remote connections to aborted fetal tissue, it is morally acceptable and “an act of love” for Catholics to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. “It must be understood as an act of charity toward other members of the community. It should be considered an act of love for neighbor and part of the moral responsibility toward the common good.” However, it is important for Catholics to recognize the “grave, immoral nature of abortion” and not deny the “tragedy” of it, he said.

Bachir told viewers that Islamic law is clear that if the benefits of a therapeutic outweigh the harms, then they are permitted for use. “Islam’s concern for self and neighbor insists that participation of vaccination is a praiseworthy act.”

Rabbi Linda Bertenthal of Temple Emanuel in Davenport said preserving human life and health “is a primary Jewish concept,” deriving from the first books of the Hebrew Bible. Likewise, it is “not smart to think God will save you if the treatment is there” and you refuse it. She also said people of faith have a responsibility to protect others, especially those who are not medically able to get the vaccine. “It puts duty on those who can to (work toward) herd immunity.”

Jay Wolin, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, finished the discussion by expressing condolences for people who have died or lost loved ones due to COVID-19. “I know people who have died. It’s a horrible death.” He said his role is to “reduce suffering in the community.” He understands that the COVID-19 vaccine can tap into the “understandable” human fear of things that are new or unknown, “but I invite you to have courage, as I’ve heard from the others, to work for the common good and save lives. I ask you to please get vaccinated and save lives.”


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