Literally rolling up their sleeves, San Diego Roman Catholic leaders are working to boost confidence in COVID-19 shots amid congregant worries about morality and “misinformation.”
On Thursday, 100 priests and permanent deacons received their second Pfizer dose via an Alvarado Hospital Medical Center clinic at the diocese’s pastoral center in Bay Ho.
San Diego-Imperial Catholic region spokesman Kevin Eckery said the diocese, in touch with county health authorities, has offered church facilities as vaccination sites.
“I think that as the supplies ramp up, we’ll see if any more sites are needed and we’ll certainly step up to do our part,” Eckery said Wednesday.
Bishop Robert McElroy, who received his shots in January, sent a pastoral letter last week to more than 150,000 church members to bat down fears about the shots.
“God has brought us vaccines that can heal us and heal our world,” McElroy said in a letter sent via Flocknotes software. (It wasn’t yet posted on the diocese website.)
The letter added: “The parish will be sending out to you further information that speaks to the rumors which have generated fears in our community, as well as instructions on how to receive the vaccine.”
McElroy and fellow San Diego bishops John Dolan and Ramon Bejarano have received the vaccine, and the letter “thanked God deeply for this grace of science bestowed upon us and our society.”
As he did in a March 3 statement and video posted Tuesday, McElroy encouraged the 1.3 million Catholics in the diocese’s two-county area to be vaccinated.
“There is only one pathway for us as a society out of the pandemic,” he says, “and that is through the embracing of vaccinations by the whole of our community.”
He called vaccinations safe, effective and “wholly in keeping with Catholic teaching.”
Auxiliary Bishop Dolan, in his own video posted to YouTube, said he had taken part in the Pfizer vaccine clinical trial. (He later was informed he got the placebo.)
“I’ve had no side effects,” he said.
A third video on the diocesan website features Dr. Irma Covarrubias-Lugo, a family medicine specialist with Kaiser Permanente, who rebuts the belief that accepting the vaccine means “somehow endorsing abortion.”
But Pope Francis and others down to McElroy say “this is not the case,” she said.
She addressed misinformation that McElroy noted but didn’t specify.
“Some people think we are injecting them with the virus,” Covarrubias-Lugo said. “This is not the case. The vaccines do not have live virus. And you cannot get COVID-19 from them.”
She said some people think the vaccine carries a chip used to track people.
“That’s not true,” she said calmly, shaking her head.
“We can finally see an end to lockdowns, quarantines and the disruption of our lives. It’s in our hands to make that a reality. May God bless you.”
A recent national poll asked: “If a vaccine for the coronavirus is made available to you, will you choose to be vaccinated or not?”
About 37% of Latinos said they wouldn’t get the shot compared with Whites (28%) and Blacks (25%). Some 23% of baby boomers (ages 56-74) said they wouldn’t get the shot, while only 9% of people over 74 indicated they wouldn’t be vaccinated against COVID-19.
A breakdown by religion wasn’t done, but the poll asked “White Evangelical Christians” if they’d get the shot, and 38% said they wouldn’t.
Eckery, the diocese’s spokesman and vice chancellor, said most of the pastoral center’s 85 employees are back. He said the building is large and ability to social distance is good.
He said parish priests have been asked to share the pro-vaccine message at their Masses.
On the push from the top, Eckery said: “The bishops wanted to play a constructive role in letting people know that the vaccines that were out there were safe, ethical and effective. And just as importantly, it’s free.”
He noted a “microsite” of COVID-19 information and links to resources on the diocesan website.
“We’re trying to be informative, responsive and positive about helping everybody go out and get the vaccine, for goodness sake,” Eckery said.
In closing his 314-word pastoral letter, McElroy said: “The sooner we are all vaccinated, the sooner we will be able to return to the many joys of our lives that we have missed during this past year of suffering. The vaccines, with our continued masking and social distancing during the coming months, will bring this hateful pandemic to an end.”