The development of two mRNA Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – both of which have received FDA emergency-use authorization – is a most generous gift from Hashem. Despite the many unanswered questions, these vaccines (and potentially others) have the potential to save millions of lives worldwide.
But only if we take them. It is therefore critical that we know the opinion of halachic experts on these vaccines. Their opinion, the opinion of gedolim representing all sectors of Orthodoxy, is based on two large prospective, double-blind trials – conducted separately and independently – that conclusively demonstrated that the new vaccines are both very safe and highly efficacious.
Even well-designed trials can’t guarantee that unexpected or rare complications will never occur, but halacha demands that we evaluate medications and treatments in the context of both known and unknown risks and benefits. So keeping in mind the large number of deaths and serious complications associated with Covid-19, the relatively limited and meager medications available to treat this illness, and the statistically significant value of these vaccines, what do poskim say about taking these vaccines?
Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita, and Rav Mordechai Willig, shlita – with the support of Rav Dovid Cohen, shlita – have said the following in a combined Orthodox Union/Rabbinical Council of America statement:
“Pursuant to the advice of your personal health care provider, the Torah obligation to preserve our lives and the lives of others requires us to vaccinate for COVID-19 as soon as a vaccine becomes available” (emphasis added).
Rav Asher Weiss, shlita – in a detailed teshuvah available in Hebrew, as well as in an on-line English shiur – stated that he strongly recommends taking the vaccine.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita; Rav Gershon Edelstein, shlita; and Rav Shalom Cohen, shlita – three of the most prominent Israeli chareidi rabbanim – have all stated that anyone who can get the vaccine should take it. (Rav Chaim, shlita, can be seen saying this on video.)
Finally, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlita, in a handwritten teshuvah, states that he has no personal opinion on the matter but recommends that each individual ask his or her doctor and follow the doctor’s advice.
Thus, the essentially unanimous psak of these contemporary gedolim from across the Orthodox spectrum is that taking these vaccines if your physician advises it is highly recommended.
I would add that a person who saves a single life is considered as to have saved the entire world. We are a nation of gomlei chassadim; think of how many lives we will save if we all get vaccinated as soon as possible.
We are about to be given the privilege and opportunity to do this great mitzvah. Let us all look forward in anticipation of getting vaccinated and say when we receive the shot:
“May it be Your will, dear G-d, that our getting vaccinated will help save the lives of many people we love and people we have never even met – people of all colors and religions – and may we make a huge Kiddush Hashem in doing so. Amen.”