There is a duty to take the vaccine, but it should not be compelled

The Iona Institute has asked a number of Catholic moral theologians and philosophers to respond to a number of questions about whether there is a moral duty to take one of the Covid vaccinations when offered one, whether they should be a legal compulsion to do so, and finally whether companies such as airlines should be allowed to refuse service to anyone who has not taken a vaccine.

The first responses to these questions are offered by Fr Vincent Twomey, one of the most distinguished and senior Catholic moral theologians in the country.


Q1. Is there a moral duty on each of us to take one of the vaccines?

The short answer is: Yes, under certain conditions, namely:

  • That there is a pandemic, so that allowing oneself to be vaccinated would amount to a duty to the common good; this applies in particular to adults with regard to those in one’s immediate proximity, who might be particularly vulnerable (e.g., one’s own children with genetic deficiencies, or those close us who have some serious physical disability; aged relatives at home, patients in nursing homes, hospital or other medical centres, workers in the retail trade or other essential services, etc.); in a word, the moral duty to take a safe vaccine applies to the common good of society as whole, when no one in one’s own proximity is endangered.

  • That there is no other alternative.
  • That taking the vaccine is done after consultation with one’s GP to ensure that there are no underlying conditions (e.g., allergies, dormant leukaemia, or childhood meningitis, etc.), which could be potentially lethal for the recipient of the vaccine – or, in the case of pregnant women, impact negatively on the child in the womb.
  • That the vaccines are ethically licit; that is, that they are not so seriously morally compromised in their origin or testing that taking the vaccines would amount to either formal or proximate material co-operation. With regard to the three Covid-19 vaccines on offer in the EU and UK, they are considered licit in the judgment of most theologians, Bishops and, it would seem, the CDF[2] – on the important condition that one continues to protest against the use of such cells from aborted children,[3]g., by making one’s serious moral reservations known to those administrating it.

That the vaccines are as safe as possible. That means that they have been tested under the most rigorous conditions and have been declared safe by the appropriate medical and governmental authorities. Only those suitably qualified and professionally recognized as such can judge their safety. The rest, including moral theologians, are at the mercy of their judgement. Such testing usually/typically requires (a) years of careful testing with regard to their effectiveness as well with regard to possible side-effects and (b) that, once the required rigorous testing on animals has been proven to be successful, equally rigorous testing has been successfully carried out with regard

to different categories of people (children, youth, adults, pregnant women, those with common allergies, and the aged). However, given the gravity of the pandemic, if rigorous testing has been achieved and the vaccine has been approved in a shorter space of time, it would not seem appropriate to accept the vaccine only after years of results have been amassed.

  • That a person has no conscientious objection to taking the vaccines.[4] For example, someone, who has committed his or her life to the pro-life movement, could in conscience refuse to take the vaccine.[5] That conscientious objection must be protected by law, if necessary. The fact that experiments to produce other vaccines and therapies continue to use cells ultimately derived from aborted children, even if decades ago, could persuade a pro-life protagonist to refuse even vaccines judged morally licit by Church authorities to make such protest.6 Likewise, a medical professional, who has serious doubts about the validity of the testing of the vaccines in the rush to find a suitable one, a rush that is not necessarily entirely altruistic, considering the huge financial gains to some laboratories and the pharmaceutical company that places the vaccine on the market, or considering the political and economic pressure on the Government to put an end to the pandemic.

Q2. Should we be legally compelled to do so if we refuse?

Unequivocally, No.

  • That would amount to undue intervention by the State in matters that are fundamentally the responsibility of free persons – in a word a form of soft totalitarianism introduced under the pretext of a pandemic. The unrelenting obsession with it by the media has caused serious economic and psychological damage (depression, suicide, abuse within families) and no little panic, even hysteria, with the result that the majority could easily be persuaded to take such radical measures, which in the long term would do damage to our already fragile democracy.
  • The State, however, could insist that such persons, who refuse to be vaccinated for whatever reason, abide by the preventive regulations (such as the wearing of masks, social distancing, limited access to one’s household, etc.) and to take special precautions where others around them are at risk, including in certain circumstances cocooning, if necessary, until the pandemic has eased.


Q3. Should companies be allowed to deny us access to certain services (like air travel) if we won’t take a vaccine?

The short answer is No:

  • With regard to travel abroad, companies cannot impose such restrictions, since that would amount to an undue curtailment of the right to travel.
  • With regard to people travelling into the country from abroad, the State can make the prudential decision to demand certificates of negative testing before being admitted (in particular from countries that are badly affected by the virus), as is he case in several counties around the world.
  • With regard to public and private companies, as the report in The Guardian pointed out recently (Dec. 14, 2020),[6] the pandemic has already taken surveillance of workers to a new level, which could amount to as a serious breach of the right to privacy and an increase of unethical control by the managers of certain companies. Concerns with regard to privacy have been expressed worldwide, but especially in Europe about the increased use of tracing-app8
  • With regard to cultural centres (restaurants, theatres, pubs, clubs, etc.), no other controls would be ethical apart from those stipulated by the present anti-Covid regulations (taking the temperature at the entrance, sighing in, social distancing within, etc.).
  • With regard to public worship, which should not be banned by the Government, the precautions already put into effect in most public churches, should be sufficient.

Vincent Twomey, SVD

Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology (St Patrick’s College, Maynooth)

January, 2021


[1] Recommended reading: NCBCVaccineStatementFINAL.pdf (

[2] Note on the morality of using some antiCovid19 vaccines (21 December 2020) (

[3] Cf. the statement of the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2005 and the Instruction of the CDF, Dignitatis Personae, 2008.

[4] This is the case, even though the present vaccines on offer, which are recognized to be ethically compromised, (albeit remotely, because of the use of stem-cells that originated in an abortion either in the production or the testing of certain vaccines – or both), have been judged licit by reputable theologians, Bishops, and it would seem, most importantly, the CDF.

[5] See, for example, the conscientious objection to World War II made by the Austrian farmer, Blessed Franz Jaegerstaetter, whose “conscience prevailed over the path of least resistance.”, as it says on the Vatican Website.

(6) It is of note that protests by animal-rights protagonists in the UK to the use of animal tallow in the production of their new plastic currency forced the UK Government to find alternative material.

[7] The pandemic has taken surveillance of workers to the next level | Rachel Connolly | Opinion | The Guardian 8Concerns about privacy protections are particularly acute in Europe, where officials have called for collaborative efforts that would include intense oversight to make sure users know when and how personal data is being exploited.” Cf.  COVID19 tracing apps: Which countries are doing what | World Gulf News [Norway and Austria, it seems, had to roll back their mobile tracing systems, as they were considered a breach of privacy, but I have no reference to published reports of same.]