New Zealand Catholic bishops urge everyone to have a Covid-19 vaccine

WelCom February 2021 New Zealand’s Catholic bishops are strongly urging their faithful and everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand to get a Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available. In a statement…

WelCom February 2021

New Zealand’s Catholic bishops are strongly urging their faithful and everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand to get a Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

In a statement from the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, issued 13 January 2021, President Cardinal John Dew, cited this country’s 2019–2020 measles epidemic and the endorsement of Covid-19 vaccines by Pope Francis, as reasons the bishops are calling on everyone to get vaccinated.

In an Italian television interview, aired on 9 January 2021, Pope Francis lamented that some people were saying they would refuse vaccination, adding: ‘I believe that morally, everyone must take the vaccine. It is the moral choice because it is about your life [and] the lives of others.’

Cardinal Dew said Pope Francis had made it clear there was no religious reason to reject vaccination, including that some vaccines were created with cell lines that originated from tissue from human fetuses aborted several decades ago.

Catholic teaching opposes abortion, but the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith office has said the ‘grave danger’ of spreading Covid-19 outweighs those concerns when ‘ethically irreproachable vaccines are not available’. It was ‘morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process’. Pope Francis endorsed that statement on 17 December 2020.

Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in the Vatican on 13 January 2021. 

Cardinal Dew said the New Zealand bishops took their advice about vaccines from reputable doctors, scientists and the bishops’ own bioethics agency, the Nathaniel Centre.

‘We reject the false information circulating on the internet and elsewhere that claims vaccines should not be used,’ Cardinal Dew said. ‘Vaccines work, and they protect against a wide range of illnesses. Because of vaccines, once-universal diseases such as smallpox have been wiped out, saving countless lives.

‘To protect everyone against a disease, it is vital most people in a country be vaccinated. The 2019–2020 New Zealand measles epidemic happened because only about 80 per cent of the population were vaccinated. As a result, the disease was carried from Auckland to Samoa where more than 80 people died, most of them babies and children.

‘Everyone, including Catholics, has a moral responsibility to protect themselves and others by getting a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as they become eligible for it under the Government’s planned vaccine programme,’ said Cardinal Dew. 

The Vatican doctrinal office statement endorsed by Pope Francis said that all vaccinations recognised as clinically safe and effective could, ‘be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use
of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.’

Online links for further information

An open letter with 42 signatories, was sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on 29 January asking the New Zealand government to support a ‘people’s vaccine’, with a temporary relaxation of some intellectual property rules of the World Trade Organisation to assist developing countries to vaccinate their populations. Cardinal John Dew, as Archbishop of Wellington, joined 41 other community voices in signing the letter. (The letter is online at: