A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a “Vaccine COVID-19” sticker and a medical syringe in this photo illustration. CNS photo/Dado Ruvic, Reuters

Mandatory vaccines? Educators have no doubts

By 
  • January 20, 2022

The people who work in Catholic schools don’t think there ought to be any uncertainty over whether or not the kids in classrooms are vaccinated.

Since August, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association has been calling for COVID to be added to the list of nine diseases children must be vaccinated against. On the employer side, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association added its voice in November.

Mandatory vaccination is the best way to provide “a safe and sustainable school year and to provide the greatest level of protection to our students and communities,” said OECTA president Barb Dobrowolski.

Mandated vaccinations as part of keeping the schools up and running aren’t a panicked, short-term reaction to the rampant Omicron variant of COVID, said OCSTA president Patrick Daly.

“Both in the short-term and the long-term, we think that needs to be done,” he said.

Including COVID with measles, mumps and rubella in the list of mandated vaccinations is uncontroversial for Catholics, in Daly’s view.

“Pope Francis has been very, very clear on numerous occasions. I know my own diocese in Hamilton, Bishop (Doug) Crosby has been very strong, speaking to it as a matter of charity and for the common good,” he said.

On the other hand, the Catholic education position that would force parents to vaccinate their children or apply for an exemption on medical, religious or conscience grounds, does not have the support of either Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore or the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

“It is a new vaccine,” said Moore. “And as a result of that we want greater experience with it before we would ever mandate it.”

In November, before Omicron swept the country, NACI framed its advice on administering the Pfizer vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds as a matter of parental choice.

“Given the short-term uncertainties surrounding paediatric vaccination at this time, children and their parents or guardians should be supported and respected in their decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccination for the child, whatever decisions they make, and should not be stigmatized for accepting or not accepting the vaccination offer,” NACI said in its Nov. 19 guidance on paediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently less than half of the under-12s eligible for the vaccine have had a first shot and fewer than five per cent have had the second, confirmatory jab.

So if the government won’t make parents vaccinate their children, should religious duty mandate it? Association of Catholic Bishops of Ontario president Bishop Ronald Fabbro is reluctant to go that far.

“Persons who are against vaccination are our brothers and sisters and are owed our love and respect,” the Bishop told The Catholic Register in an email. “They may be in good conscience, which keeps a person from sin.”

But the former professor of moral theology warns against an easy or lazy affirmation of conscience.

“An erroneous conscience does not forbid certain consequences, such as measures mandating vaccinations. Bishops, therefore, have urged the faithful to educate and inform their conscience according to the teachings of our Church,” he said.

Catholics need to be vaccinated “out of love for their neighbour and to serve the common good,” Fabbro said.

At Unity Health, where doctors and nurses in Providence, St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s hospitals were treating 182 COVID patients on Jan. 17, including 26 in intensive care, the administration doesn’t want to wander into debates over mandatory vaccinations.

“We hope every eligible person will take this step to keep themselves, their loved ones and communities safe,” said Unity spokesperson Hayley Mick in an email.

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