Gaffigan, in 2017, survived major brain tumor surgery, and her admiration for front-line workers like Chavira stuck with her since then. “When I was in the hospital on a ventilator,” said Gaffigan, “seeing all the people who worked in health care, I thought, these are angels and saints on earth.”
The panel consisted of six Catholics from across the medical field and around the globe and they made appeals to a shared faith identity, to “pro-life” values and to the common commitment of believers in a universal church.
They also spoke directly to Republican-identifying Catholics and supporters of former President Donald Trump, pointing out that even though he initially minimized the dangers of the pandemic and eschewed mask wearing, Trump recently encouraged supporters to get vaccinated. The Trump administration was responsible for initiating Operation Warp Speed, which funneled over $10 billion into COVID-19 vaccine development.
The Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, a priest and molecular biologist, noted that money was a key reason the vaccines were developed so quickly.
“Governments are dumping money on anyone and everyone who is trying to come up with a vaccine,” said Austriaco.
Several panelists passionately spoke against letting politics sway decision-making in a pandemic.
“People seem to think it’s only liberals who are pushing for vaccines and masks. But that’s not true,” said Harvard physician Tommy Heyne. Heyne pointed to colleagues and friends across the political spectrum who have gotten vaccinated, adding that Trump himself recently urged supporters to get vaccinated.
Besides political reasons, Heyne appealed to their shared faith identity. “We’re not Puritans, we’re not Pentecostals, we’re Catholics,” said Heyne. He noted the long tradition of Catholics advancing science, from Gregor Mendel to Georges Lemaître. “It’s un-Catholic to just reject science,” he said.
Finally, Heyne invoked a different authority, citing the pleas by Pope Francis and many bishops to get vaccinated. “As a wannabe faithful son of the church, I know that I’m being obedient to the leaders that the Holy Spirit has given us,” said Heyne.
Austriaco presented vaccination as a social justice issue on a global scale. He criticized American vaccine skepticism in light of the immense vaccine stockpiles the United States has versus the rest of the world.
“I have seen Filipinos lining up at 1 a.m. hoping to get a shot at 9 a.m.,” Austriaco said, contrasting that with American unwillingness to get vaccinated as doses expire.
His voice strained by tears, Austriaco called upon American Catholics to think of the ethical issues at stake as broader than their own bodies and their own selves:
“We don’t know how blessed we are — this is not a ‘me’ thing, it’s a ‘Jesus and us’ thing.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Rev. Austriaco’s name.
This article originally appeared here.