Update: The panel has concluded. Click here to watch the video.

[Editor’s Note: Mark your calendars — “Vaccination is a Life Issue,” Tuesday, August 31, at 12 noon PDT (3 p.m. EDT). Free and open to the public. Sponsored by LMU Center for Religion and Spirituality. Click HERE for event and streaming information]

I have a confession to make. I am suffering from “Covid fatigue.” It’s been over a year and a half since the pandemic changed our lives, and I have gotten a little stir crazy. I am a mom with five kids from age 8 to 17—all of whom are about to go back to in-person school with masking, daily self-assessment forms, gathering restrictions, and school protocols—and I am already feeling overwhelmed about the next few months.

My daughter’s SAT testing location just closed and there are no make-up days available, so now we are now behind the 8-ball with college applications. My other kids’ schools are sending emails warning us about quarantines for entire classes if one student tests positive for Covid—and this year we don’t have the option to home school. I have a feeling of dread about my ability to handle this new normal. My husband is now headed back on the road to perform concerts all over the country, in different states with a wide variety of different pandemic restrictions. He has to take a Covid-test daily, and every day I anxiously wonder if part of his tour will have to be postponed for a third time. Everything in the near future seems so uncertain. Believe me: I want these public health restrictions and guidelines to be lifted just as much as anyone—if not more. I can’t wait for everything to return to normal. But much more important than convenience and my personal comfort are the millions of people around the world who are in vulnerable populations and whose lives are at risk if they catch this deadly virus, especially as even more infectious variant strains begin to spread.

Fortunately, doctors and scientists from all over the world have worked excruciatingly hard to help us cope with this unprecedented disaster. Not only have they increased our understanding of how to prevent the spread of the virus, but they have developed vaccines that will help save lives, prevent serious illness, and protect our healthcare system from being overburdened. This strain on our hospitals has real world consequences. For example, my aunt who has cancer is on a waiting list for a hospital bed. As a mother, I worry about what might happen if one of my kids has a health emergency. I don’t know about you but in my experience, having a big family leads to a higher incidence of random trips to the ER for accidents and allergic reactions.

Since the release of the vaccines late last year, the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of promoting vaccine equity, working to ensure that both the rich and the poor have access to the vaccines. The Vatican announced in January that both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict received Covid vaccines. And, in case there was any doubt, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note in December 2020 declaring that all of the Covid vaccines “recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience.”

Many Catholics, however, are still uncertain about the safety and moral acceptability of some or all of the vaccines that have been developed. As I have engaged in dialogue with people in my circles, I believe that many of these concerns are understandable and deserve answers from trustworthy sources. To respond to their concerns, I decided to pull together a group of faithful Catholic experts to discuss the lingering questions—and frankly, fears—that some of us may have. “Just shut up and take the vaccine” is not working, nor should it. People need to be listened to and understood.

This event, Vaccination is a Life Issue, will be streamed on Facebook Live this Tuesday afternoon. I am very grateful to the Loyola Marymount University Center for Religion and Spirituality, which graciously offered to host this important discussion about the COVID-19 vaccine from a Catholic perspective. I will serve as the moderator of a panel of experts who have volunteered their time to help answer your questions:

  • Mary Haddad, R.S.M., president and CEO at The Catholic Health Association of the United States.
  • Nicanor Austrico, O.P., Ph.D., a Filipino-American molecular biologist and Catholic priest. He is a professor of biology and professor of theology at Providence College. (You can read some of his past writing on the morality of the Covid vaccine here, and an interview with Crux’s John Allen here.)
  • Daniel Chavira, M.D., associate clinical professor of emergency medicine at UCLA, and an emergency physician and medical director of clinical observation at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital.
  • Thomas V. Cunningham, Ph.D., bioethics program director with Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center and lecturer for the Bioethics Institute at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
  • Dr. Thomas (“Tommy”) Heyne is an Assistant Physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Like his wife Nancy, he is double Board-Certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatric and works primarily as an adult hospitalist, caring for patients admitted to the hospital (many with COVID-19). He is passionate about prolife causes and Catholic apologetics, and he is in formation to become a Permanent Deacon.
  • Dr. Nancy Hernández Heyne is an Assistant Physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Like her husband Tommy, she is double Board-Certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatric and works primarily as an adult hospitalist, caring for patients admitted to the hospital (many with COVID-19). She has advocated for prolife causes and is the proud mother of two children.

This panel will answer questions including: Is COVID-19 really a threat? Is the vaccine dangerous for me? Am I morally obligated to get vaccinated? Are there risks to fertility and pregnancy? Can we trust the government and the health care system? Each panelist on this first event brings their own unique perspective and background to help us navigate the science, the moral questions, and the fears surrounding both the vaccines and the virus itself.

We will try to sort out the truth from the misinformation on these issues from a Catholic and Christian perspective in this hour-long discussion. I believe discussions like these will improve our understanding of this public health crisis and what each of us can do to bring it to an end.

Ending this pandemic will require all of us to drop our differences and work together for a little while. It’s my prayer to God that he will unite us so we can put an end to this scourge of Covid-19 and to unnecessary suffering. I invite you to join us on Tuesday.

Update: The panel has concluded. Click here to watch the video.

To Participate

This event is free and open to the public, and will be streamed on Facebook Live on Tuesday, August 31, at noon Pacific Daylight Time (3 p.m. EDT). Viewers will be able to participate in the Q&A via the comments section.

Click HERE for more information and to add it to your calendar!

Header Image: Adobe Stock.

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Jeannie Gaffigan is an actress, producer, writer, philanthropist, mother of five and all around comedic force. Jeannie is the director and a founding member of The Imagine Society Inc., a youth-led nonprofit organization. Jeannie is also the author of a New York Times Bestseller, When Life Gives You Pears, a memoir chronicling her diagnosis, surgery and recovery from a Pear sized brain tumor. Jeannie lives with her husband Jim and their five children in New York City.

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