Q — I hear people saying this and that about vaccines. Have Catholics ever thought of vaccines as a lack of faith in God’s will? Why or why not?

A — On the surface this question looks very straightforward as a question about faith in God’s custodial care. In fact, however, it is quite complex.

The complexity arises from a number of factors. The following two factors occur to me. First, we need to distinguish this question from the quite distinct question prompted by the recent outbreak of measles, in part due to the lack of vaccination. Perhaps that is the issue that gave rise to this question, but the question as such is much more general, about vaccines as such and faith in God. Second, there are different and contrasting ways of thinking about God’s presence and action in creation.

Catholicism has always espoused the closest possible link between God and creation, while maintaining, of course, God’s utter transcendence. Given God’s immanence within his creation, Catholicism thinks of God’s action normally as taking place through what are often called “secondary causes.” In terms of health such secondary causes would include medical personnel and procedures, prescription drugs, and vaccines, etc. Faith in God includes all these realities. All those things (people and instruments) that make for human flourishing are instruments of God’s presence and action.