More than 760 cases of measles have been reported in the United States this year, the CDC says. Currently, 23 states have been affected, with 60 new cases reported in the last week. The majority of cases have been concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, with outbreaks in New Jersey, Washington, and California as well.
Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. But experts say a decline in vaccination rates has left some communities particularly vulnerable to outbreaks, among them communities with religious objections to vaccinations.
As the U.S. continues to faces its worst measles outbreak in a quarter-century, the national debate about vaccines has been reignited, and with it, questions about whether Catholics can and should vaccinate.
One reason that some people decline the measles vaccine in particular has to do with the fact that it was developed from cell lines descending from aborted fetal tissue.
The vaccines for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), hepatitis A, and chicken pox are the only remaining vaccines that were developed in these cell lines, and for which there are no alternatives on the market.
But this does not mean that Catholics are prohibited from receiving these vaccines, explained Dr. Jozef Zalot, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), a non-profit research and educational institute committed to applying the moral teachings of the Catholic Church to ethical issues arising in healthcare and the life sciences.
Zalot pointed to a 2005 document from the Pontifical Academy for Life which considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared in cell lines descended from aborted fetuses. The Vatican group concluded that it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.
The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.
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