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The state’s four Catholic bishops and dioceses of Iowa are encouraging Iowans to be vaccinated against COVID=19, particularly those living in rural areas where vaccination rates lag.
On Thursday, the Catholic dioceses launched a statewide campaign to reassure its parishioners of the safety of the vaccine in an effort to address any hesitancy Iowans have in receiving the shots.
The state’s four bishops — the Rev. Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, the Rev. Michael Jackels of Dubuque, the Rev. William Joensen of Des Moines and the Rev. R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City — emphasized the vaccine is the most effective way to prevent serious illness and death from the coronavirus.
“In communion with Pope Francis, we remind the faithful that the common good of public health should take precedence over any moral reservation about receiving the vaccines; they will not be effective if people do not use them,” the bishops wrote in a statement.
The new campaign, which includes video testimonials of Iowans who received the COVID-19 vaccine, was created following conversations between the Diocese of Davenport and the University of Iowa about low vaccination rates in rural Iowa.
“The bishops are looking at the pandemic from the perspective of pastors who are concerned about the lives of others,” said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.
Though COVID-19 vaccines have been available in Iowa for close to a year, many people have yet to be vaccinated. According to the latest data from the state public health department, 56.76 percent of Iowans aged 5 and older are fully vaccinated as of this week.
Catholics are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at higher rates than other Christian denominations, research has shown. According to the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of Catholics surveyed have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 57 percent of white evangelicals and 73 percent of white Protestants.
The bishops encouraged all Iowans to get the COVID-19 vaccines last December, when the first doses were being distributed nationwide. At that time, the Catholic leaders assured the faithful the shots were safe, effective and that nothing within the vaccine would violate ethics.
“People may in good conscience use the vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna, which made only limited use of those unethical cell lines (for lab testing of the vaccine),” they wrote in a statement.
Some bishops in Iowa have encouraged influenza vaccines on a regular basis in the past, but Chapman said he doesn’t recall a unified campaign such as the one launched this week.
Kent Ferris, the social action and Catholic Charities director at the Diocese of Davenport who spearheaded the campaign, said improving the vaccination rate is worth the dioceses’ effort.
“For those who still have questions about whether or not getting the vaccine will make a difference, we want people to know that their friends and neighbors across Iowa believe in the vaccine,” Ferris said in a statement.
“There are many people ready and willing to talk with those who are struggling to make a decision about whether to be vaccinated.”
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