Children who attend Catholic schools administered by the Archdiocese of Seattle must be vaccinated and can no longer claim personal or religious opposition to vaccines, the archdiocese announced earlier this week.

“We decided it was time to update the school policy for immunizations to make sure it’s reflecting our Catholic teaching,” Helen McClenahan, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Seattle, said on Tuesday, Oct. 1. The new policy only permits exemptions for medical reasons, such as an allergy to the ingredients in a vaccine.

Analysis of all schools--public and private--located in the archdiocese shows that some communities have vaccination rates well below what is required for herd immunity. Data from 2018 indicates that some Catholic schools in Seattle have sixth-grade MMR/pertussis vaccination rates that are lower than most developing countries, and are comparable with vaccination levels in Somalia and Afghanistan.

Other Catholic schools in the area have much higher rates, including many with more than 90% of students vaccinated.

The new policy will officially take effect in January, but students have until the start of the 2020-2021 school year to get up to date on vaccinations.

Some people are unhappy with the new policy, and picketed the archdiocese with signs against what they have deemed “coerced vaccination.” One sign stated “Would Jesus kick a healthy child out of school?”

Bernadette Pajer, who is the co-president of Informed Choice Washington, an organization that promotes vaccine exemptions, was present at the demonstration. She said she was “appalled” at the changes, and said that the archdiocese was not protecting religious freedom.

“We don’t want our right to say ‘no’ taken away,” said Pajer.

Pajer said that she does not want her son to receive vaccinations, and that she feels as though vaccinating her son would be sinful.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, which studies vaccinations among many other ethical questions, disagrees with the analysis that vaccinations are sinful.

In 2017, the academy released a statement saying there was “a moral obligation” to be vaccinated, and that “all clinically recommended vaccines can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.”

In 2005, the academy considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared using cell lines obtained from abortions. They concluded, in part because of the passage of time and the generations of research since the original use of the aborted remains, that it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.

The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

Last year, Washington state experienced the highest number of measles cases the state had seen in decades. Washington has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and has the third-lowest rate of children who receive the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine.