School immunization policy updated to reflect Catholic teaching

Students at the Archdiocese of Seattle’s 73 Catholic schools must be vaccinated beginning January 1, 2020, unless they have a medical exemption. The archdiocese’s policy was updated to reflect Catholic teaching. Photo: CNS/Brian Snyder, Reuters Students at the Archdiocese of Seattle’s 73 Catholic schools must be vaccinated beginning January 1, 2020, unless they have a medical exemption. The archdiocese’s policy was updated to reflect Catholic teaching. Photo: CNS/Brian Snyder, Reuters

SEATTLE — Students at the archdiocese’s 73 Catholic schools must be vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption, under an updated Archdiocese of Seattle policy that takes effect January 1, 2020. However, students not vaccinated will be able to complete the 2019-2020 academic year at their schools.

The policy was updated to be consistent with Catholic teaching that supports immunization for the good of all, said Helen McClenahan, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. The policy also supports vaccinations required by the state of Washington for school attendance.

“It is important everyone understands that the Catholic Church is not opposed to immunizations,” Assistant Superintendent Teresa Fewel wrote in a September 27 letter to principals. “In fact, the Catholic Church has an obligation to protect and promote the welfare of all children and the common good against serious health threats.”

After a measles outbreak in the state, the Legislature passed a law in May 2019 requiring all students attending public and private schools and day cares to have the measles vaccination unless they have a medical or religious exemption.

The Archdiocese’s updated policy means it will no longer accept religious, personal or philosophical exemptions to vaccinations in its schools. Students at all schools operated by the archdiocese must show evidence of vaccination by September 2020.

Catholic teaching regarding immunizations is reflected in a 2017 document from the Pontifical Academy of Life, which states there is “a moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others … we believe that all clinically recommended vaccines can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.”

Vaccines were once prepared using cells from aborted human fetuses, but “today it is no longer necessary to obtain cells from new voluntary abortions,” the document states. Some vaccines made today still use cell lines developed from two fetuses aborted in the 1960s, but those lines “are very distant from the original abortions and no longer imply that bond of moral cooperation indispensable for an ethically negative evaluation of their use,” the document adds.