FILE PHOTO. Members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) attend the Thanksgiving Mass during the Quadricentennial Celebration on Jan. 28, 2011. The CBCP played an important role in a number of Quadricentennial events. Fr. Gerard Francisco Timoner III, O.P. then Rector of the UST Central Seminary, described the bishops’ support as “overwhelming”. (Photo by Josa Bassig/ The Varsitarian)

A THOMASIAN priest-scientist called on Philippine bishops, along with government officials, to get inoculated in public to help convince more people to trust COVID-19 vaccines. 

The Church has a responsibility to aid the state in dealing with the pandemic, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., a molecular biologist and visiting professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in UST, said during the 121st Plenary Assembly of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) last Jan. 27.

“It is very important for the Church to help the country fight this pandemic; otherwise, it will not end,” he said during his presentation.

Austriaco said that Filipinos trust bishops more than scientists, so prelates should consider getting vaccinated in public and televised sessions to allay the public’s fears.

“I humbly request that the bishops of the Philippines consider being vaccinated on television alongside the mayors of their LGUs (local government units) to encourage our Filipino people, especially our poorest people, to be vaccinated,” he said.

“I talked to the poorest people. They are scared… to be vaccinated and it breaks my heart because they are the most vulnerable ones, the oldest ones, the poorest ones. And they are terrified so I ask the bishops of the Philippines that you consider being vaccinated on TV.”

A recent survey by the Austriaco-led UST Covid-19 Vaccine Awareness Team found that only 55.9 percent of Filipinos were willing to receive anti-Covid-19 shots.

Of the survey’s 15,561 respondents, 71.6 percent said they will only get vaccinated after politicians receive the vaccines.

The team said “a directed public awareness campaign to educate Filipinos so that they understand the scientific data that grounds the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines” was needed to address vaccine hesitancy.

Church and Covid-19 vaccination

Austriaco also brought up the issue of the vaccines making use of fetal cell lines derived from a decades-old abortion, which may cause hesitancy among Christians.

“What is clear is we will not be morally compromised if we choose vaccines that were made using these cells because there were no actual parts used. None of these are injected into you because they were all destroyed in the process of making the vaccine,” he said.

Infectious diseases expert Dr. James Lawler, in an article posted on Nebraska Medicine’s website, has debunked the claim that Covid-19 vaccines contain aborted fetal cells.

“The Covid-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells. However, Pfizer and Moderna did perform confirmation tests (to ensure the vaccines work) using fetal cell lines,” he said.

“But it’s important to have the full context: Fetal cell lines are not the same as fetal tissue. Fetal cell lines are cells that grow in a laboratory. They descend from cells taken from elective abortions in the 1970s and 1980s. Those individual cells from the 1970s and 1980s have since multiplied into many new cells over the past four or five decades, creating fetal cell lines. Current fetal cell lines are thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue.”

The Vatican itself had noted that it would not be immoral to avail oneself of “morally controversial” vaccines, especially if no other options are available, Austriaco earlier said.

During the plenary assembly, Austriaco also recommended a revision of the “oratio imperata” or obligatory prayer against Covid-19 to include a prayer for the country’s vaccination efforts to end the pandemic. The CBCP adopted his recommendation and included a prayer for the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in halting the spread of the virus in its recent revision of the prayer.

Austriaco, who works with the independent Covid-19 analysis research group OCTA, said that the mass vaccination program against Covid-19 will be the largest and most complex public health effort in the country’s history as about 75 million Filipino adults, or 70 percent of the country’s population, will be inoculated.

The Dominican scientist is also working on a yeast-based vaccine for Covid-19, which would be easier to administer and produce given the country’s tropical climate and archipelagic geography.


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