When Cardinal Cupich joined other clergy in publicly receiving a COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 23 at St. Anthony Hospital, it marked the beginning of an archdiocesan campaign to encourage everyone to be vaccinated when they are able to. The cardinal was joined by Father Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, and Father Don Nevins, pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, 2651 S. Central Park Ave., and Pastor Richard Nelson, pastor of Greater Open Door Baptist Church, 1301 S. Sawyer Ave. Nevins and Nelson both serve on the board of the hospital, 2875 W. 19th St. St. Anthony is a safety net hospital in a community disproportionately affected by the pandemic. It has served the near West and Southwest sides for more than a century. By agreeing to be vaccinated, Cardinal Cupich wanted to encourage everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19. His endorsement of the campaign for immunizations follows a statement from the Vatican stating COVID-19 vaccines are a morally acceptable means of promoting the common good amid the global pandemic. “I am grateful to Saint Anthony Hospital for their efforts to build confidence in this vaccination and to Pope Francis for his clear moral guidance on the COVID-19 vaccines,” said Cardinal Cupich. “The pandemic has devastated families and communities around the world, particularly the poor and marginalized. The vaccines offer a ray of hope that the world will unite in our common humanity to bring about health and healing. Faith leaders must now step forward and encourage everyone to get vaccinated.” In the coming weeks, the Archdiocese of Chicago will roll out a multimedia COVID-19 vaccination awareness campaign to educate Catholics on the importance of being vaccinated. The campaign will include video messages from Cardinal Cupich and other church leaders, posters and bulletins for churches and schools, and flyers for parishioners and school families. The materials will focus not only on the importance of being vaccinated, but also the continued importance of adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines: wearing a mask, maintaining 6 feet of social distance from others, washing hands, using hand sanitizer and other precautions to prevent the spread of the deadly virus until everyone is vaccinated. Guy A. Medaglia, president and CEO of the hospital, invited the cardinal to be vaccinated as part of the hospital’s campaign to vaccinate all employees at St. Anthony, which averages fourth or fifth in Chicago for the number of COVID-related patients being treated. The rollout of the vaccine has been hampered by misinformation and conspiracy theories that have spread over social media and through some media outlets, Medaglia said, which has combined with a lack of trust in the medical system among members of the African American and Latino communities served by St. Anthony. “On the African American side, there’s been years of mistrust because African Americans were tested on, and a lot of it resulted in bad outcomes,” Medaglia said. “There’s not a lot of sense of trust when it comes to new medicine and new vaccines.” Even among hospital staff, some people wanted to take a wait-and-see approach, Medaglia said, but that puts the community at risk. “You’re gambling with life if you don’t take it,” Medaglia said. “You’re worried about issues that are unfounded, not part of science. People who say, ‘I want to wait and see what happens to others,’ … by not getting the vaccine, you could be asymptomatic, meaning you show no signs, but you could be passing this particular virus around.” Among St. Anthony staff, the vaccine acceptance rate is about 73 percent, well above the national average for health care workers, Medaglia said, which is one reason the hospital was chosen for a visit by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams as the vaccines were rolled out on Dec. 22. Medaglia, who has joined other hospital leaders in talking to staff members who declined vaccination, said some have heard that the vaccination contains microchips that will allow the government to track recipients, or that people who are vaccinated will not be allowed to have children. Neither of those ideas are true. Having Cardinal Cupich and community leaders like Nevins and Nelson, publicly receive the vaccine encouraged some employees who had been reluctant, Medaglia said, something he hopes transfers to the general public. Hospital staff have been living with the reality of COVID-19 for months, Medaglia said. “It’s heartbreaking. Doctors and nurses and respiratory techs crying because they’ve seen so much death,” he said. “The amount of mental trauma to the employees … and what do you do? There’s a shortage of nurses. There’s a shortage of doctors. You can’t say, ‘Take the next two weeks off.’ This is almost nonstop. Nobody knows what it’s like until you have to live it.” Some Catholics have expressed concern about the vaccines because some vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, were developed by using cell lines originating from fetal tissue obtained in the 1960s. This has raised moral questions, which the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified by stating: “The morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health, but also on the duty to pursue the common good. In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed.” The statement asserts that those who refuse the vaccine for reasons of conscience must avoid transmitting the virus, particularly to anyone who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons. The Catholic Conference of Illinois encouraged all Catholics to read a similar statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in its own Dec. 18 statement. “Recent days have brought hopeful news to the global fight against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by federal regulators, shipped across the country and used to inoculate front-line health care workers,” the Illinois bishops said in their statement. “As a faith community concerned about the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, we realize that many may be questioning the moral permissibility of these vaccines. We, the Catholic bishops of Illinois, join entirely the document released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, ‘Moral Considerations Regarding the New COVID-19 Vaccines.’ The document offers a detailed analysis of the origin of current vaccines and concludes that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are morally acceptable.” To read the statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, visit vatican.va. To read the U.S. bishops’ statement, visit usccb.org. To read the Catholic Conference of Illinois statement, visit ilcatholic.org.