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Westminster Canterbury Richmond in uproar over cancellation of CVS vaccines

Westminster Canterbury Richmond in uproar over cancellation of CVS vaccines

As we reported earlier today in our news roundup, vaccines promised for independent living residents at Westminster Canterbury Richmond were abruptly canceled earlier this week by CVS. In a blog post yesterday, WCR said “we have no confidence that CVS will fulfill their obligation to us as CVS has not worked with us in good faith.”

Westminster Canterbury Richmond is a faith-based charitable organization founded by Episcopal and Presbyterian churches in 1971.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has this report:

The news broke like a storm over the affluent retirement community, which lost 10 residents to COVID-19 during an outbreak after Thanksgiving that has subsided but left residents desperate for vaccination against the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 6,000 Virginians, half of them in long-term care facilities.

“Our residents are furious and fearful,” said John Burns, president and CEO of Westminster Canterbury. “We know all too well how easy it is to have an outbreak and what the consequences are. This is devastating.”

CVS and Walgreens are part of a partnership with the federal government to administer the vaccine to residents and employees of long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which are components of continuing care communities such as Westminster Canterbury.

Burns, at Westminster Canterbury, said his community had been assured by CVS that about 525 independent living residents, all 80 and older, would be vaccinated at clinics scheduled there on Feb. 15 and 16. Many residents chose not to pursue other options for vaccination in order to receive the vaccine through a clinic in their community, he said.

He said the Henrico Health Department, a local arm of the Virginia Department of Health, has told him independent living residents will have to join a line of about 15,000 elderly residents in the county who are waiting for the vaccine.

Many independent living residents are elderly in frail health and in a setting with less support would be in long-term care. The federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens is technically only for long-term care residents, but that rule had been applied flexibly. Many independent living residents in other facilities have received the vaccines through the program.



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Steven Wilson

Psalm 40, 54; Isa. 50:1-11; Gal. 3:15-22; Mark 6:47-56
Regular readers of our almost-daily Facebook post will know that we stick pretty closely to the recommended daily readings (the “Daily Office lectionary”) which allow the dedicated reader to surf through the entire Bible every three years, with even more frequency for the book of Psalms (once a month), and the Gospels (all four, every year). Today, however, lets dip into ethics and the morning news. Covid-19 vaccines are in the news, with a new supplier (Johnson & Johnson hereafter J&J) making its first test report this morning and undoubtedly soon applying for emergency use approval, at the same time that public vaccination is getting underway in our county. What follows is long. Sorry. Sue me. And some of it is Steven C Wilson only, not The Episcopal Church—but in all fairness, the denomination as an official body hasn’t really issued guidelines on specific vaccines. Sorry, working on my own here, and sorry, I’m a talker.
So, some ethics here. The Christian faith is based on an ethic of love. We’re required to love our neighbor as we love our self. Therefore, we have a duty as followers of Christ to limit the harm we cause others if that lies in our ability–we wouldn’t want someone else harming us if they could reasonably avoid it, right? I can’t reasonably predict that I’m going to have a freak explosion of tires and ram another car head on–so I don’t need to give up my driver’s license and stop driving, even though freak tire explosions do happen. But I can reasonably predict that I’m going to ram into someone if I drink 5 martinis and drive off into the night–so drunk driving is not okay. Follow me? 
If you can avoid harm, avoid it. I would say that masks, vaccines and social distance fall under the same heading as driving. Medical professionals tell me that those things significantly lessen the likelihood that I will spread the disease, in part because I am less likely to catch it at all, in part because it’s easily transmissible. Were there passages in the Scripture which forbade vaccinations or wearing masks, we’d have to privilege Scripture–but there are no such verses. (There are several places where women veil themselves in Genesis, resulting in marriages which may not have started off very happily–who wants to wake up after the honeymoon to find the wrong bride in the bed?–but nonetheless the offspring produced are among the ancestors of Jesus, so all’s well that ends gloriously.) On the whole, most denominations have encouraged wearing masks, taking vaccines and social distancing. Not required, but encouraged–and before someone starts All-Caps screaming at me about the masks-in-the-building policy at Grace Church, it’s a “my house my rules” policy, just like “you can’t smoke in my living room,” and does not apply outside the building. We’ve never said you can’t come to communion if you don’t wear a mask in WalMart–although put one on, pretty please, and stop wearing pjs in public while you’re at it.
Some of the objections I’m hearing and reading seem to be based on a distrust of the medical profession. On the whole, the Bible is respectful of medicine—Luke is a physician, after all, and he’s also beloved (Colossians 4:14). It’s true that there are some diseases the Bible says are beyond medical help (that woman with an issue of blood (Matthew, Mark and Luke), that the Bible clearly says prayer is essential for health (James most prominently). But Jeremiah 30:13 talks about binding up wounds and using medicine, and Sirach (apocryphal, but Episcopalians use it specifically for moral reasoning) encourages active visits to doctors. If you distrust your doc, find a new one. If you distrust the whole medical profession, then you do so for reasons that are not founded on Scripture but on your personal viewpoints. And opinions, friends, are like feet—we’ve all got them and we all think ours are the only ones that don’t stink.
Do vaccines and masks and social distance have medical downsides? Perhaps—but that’s a conversation to have with your physician. Medical downsides are not the point here. This is a Christian ethics post, not a discussion of possible side effects or overall efficacy. Seek out someone with MD behind their name for that. However, from an ethical standpoint, even if they do have a downside, as a Christian I’m still obligated to consider whether the good (the reduction of risk to my neighbor, whom I’m obligated to love) outweighs the bad. A sore arm, for instance, clearly is less important than the commandment to love my neighbor. Reproductive health issues further down the road—a concern some people have expressed—is a more serious one, since one’s future spouse and children are also neighbors whom you’re supposed to love. So if you talk to your MD and s/he tells you that a vaccine might lead to birth defects—something I have not heard any MD say about the vaccines, just a theoretical—then perhaps the prevention of risk to those near neighbors might be weighty enough to refuse the vaccine (but perhaps that leads to longer wearing of masks). And may I gently suggest that if you’re concerned about the medical side-effects of Covid protocols, the easiest thing you can do to counteract them is to pick up the phone and call a nursing home resident or write a note to a shut-in: the isolation of the past year is having real health implications that are obvious in the here and now, but people don’t seem to pay as much attention to those as to the theoretical possibility of unproven future results.
At an ethical level, the most serious concern I’ve seen raised about vaccines is whether they are derived from human cells obtained from abortions. The Roman Catholic Church, which has a major investment in this question, has done lots of research on this, and they clearly state that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are acceptable from their position. J&J and Astra-Zeneca (hereafter A/Z, and neither available in the US today) are, from their position, unacceptable—they use stem cell lines derived from elective abortions in the 1970s. Just so we’re clear–based on my understanding of The Episcopal Church’s policies articulated in General Convention, I believe J&J and A/Z violate my ethics. I have laid those reasons out before and don’t need to rehash them. The short answer is: taking Pfizer or Moderna shots shouldn’t cause anyone any moral crises although there might be some medical concerns, but taking J&J or A/Z might require some real thought and prayer on your part. 
The Roman position is interesting: the Archbishop of Kansas City, who’s the leading spokesman on this issue, has said that J&J and A/Z can be taken if and only if they are the only vaccines available—because one is still obligated to do everything one can to limit the spread of the disease under that rubric of neighbor love. Can, not must—it’s still profiting from evil, and that’s something Christians are supposed to avoid (Isaiah 5:20-24). But the Archbishop also made it clear that electing to do so must include strong protests to the medical provider and relevant legislators about their obligation to try to provide ethical acceptable alternatives. Interesting thought there: that it may be possible to do things under duress and with protest because there are no other alternatives to do so. Like, you know, how ancient Christians paid their taxes even though the Roman Empire used those taxes to pay the soldiers who persecuted them.
I guess the fundamental ethical question is this: how much can I be in the world without being stained by it? The world is a messy, sin-soaked place, and quite frankly I don’t think it’s possible to avoid occasionally messing up. Aren’t we glad that there’s forgiveness in Jesus? Of course, forgiveness requires repentance first, which means that on occasion we have to look back at our choices and conclude that we made a mistake there. In this instance, I would rather have to repent of having made a morally false choice that harmed only me than a morally false choice that harmed both me and a neighbor. And I’d have to really, really wrestle with what to do if J&J is the only vaccine I’m offered this summer. 
Which is what I’m already doing, obviously. Wrestling, that is. I’d suggest that all of us spend more time prayerfully wrestling with such issues before they become pressing issues—remember, J&J and A/Z are not currently approved!—rather than trying to make snap decisions on complicated questions in the heat of the moment. And perhaps most importantly, I have to assume that you, having been told that you need prayerfully to wrestle with your ethical foundations, have made the informed choice which seems best in your eyes, having consulted with trusted medical and moral leaders, and knowing full well that you may have to repent of that choice at some later point. I will respect your choice even if I choose otherwise, unless, of course, you’re shouting nonsense while implying that I’ve failed to do my prayerful research. Because that means you’re interested in winning and you see me as a loser, rather than trying to help me make the best choice in a complicated situation and to see how my moral reasoning might be helpful to you as you try to do the same thing. 
Now, take off those pjs and put on proper grown clothes and your mask before you run down to pick up milk.

Steven Wilson

May I redirec to to Fri, Jan 29, 2021

Steven Wilson
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