Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory – who has repeatedly stressed the importance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine when appropriate and available – has himself received both doses of the vaccine.

Cardinal Gregory recently received his first and second doses of the coronavirus vaccine. The vaccinations were administered at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“We at Holy Cross Health are honored to provide Cardinal Gregory with his COVID-19 vaccine as he serves the people of the region in ministry throughout the archdiocese,” said Dr. Norvell “Van” Coots, president and chief executive officer of Holy Cross Health.

In receiving the vaccinations, Cardinal Gregory has taken his own advice. In recent talks and interviews, he has been vocal in urging people to get vaccinated. Last month during a livestreamed Mass for the community of Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, Cardinal Gregory encouraged people to get the coronavirus vaccine when it is made available to them.

“We have the vaccines that are effective in helping to protect us, and I urge and plead and invite all of our students, faculty, parents, grandparents, teachers (and) benefactors to make good use of those vaccines, to get vaccinated,” the cardinal said at that Mass. He added it is the grace of Jesus “that allows these vaccines, and the medical and scientific researchers to prepare and to successfully present ways for us to bring this virus under control.”

In an article for “Health Progress,” the journal of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, Cardinal Gregory lamented that the pandemic has had a “disproportionate consequential effect” on people of color, the poor and the elderly.

“Few can deny that the coronavirus has disproportionately sickened and killed more people in those three categories than among the general population, not only in our nation, but worldwide,” he wrote. “Our ministry of healing must also include responding to the circumstances that have allowed this disease to have a disproportionate impact on the lives of certain segments of human society.”

Calling the Catholic Church “a faith community summoned to comfort and, to the best of our ability, to heal those whose lives have been so drastically crushed by this virus,” Cardinal Gregory stressed that the Church must “bring the solace of medicine and treatments… (and) demand the reform of oppressive and negligent social structures that cause some people to be more vulnerable than others to this pandemic.

“To merely comfort and heal those who have been infected by COVID-19 without examining and acknowledging the reasons why some people in society are so much more vulnerable is to heal only the disease without alleviating the conditions that make it so successful in sickening and killing some populations more than others,” Cardinal Gregory wrote in that article.

Similarly, in a recent interview with Religion News Service, Cardinal Gregory noted that in the African-American community there is a distrust and suspicion of available COVID vaccines “because of historic issues that impacted our community” including African-American women who were forcibly sterilized and unconsented medical tests performed on African-American men as part of the Tuskegee medical examinations for syphilis.

“There is present, in the African-American community, hesitation,” the cardinal said in that interview. “And I have to, I think, as a religious leader, be willing to say, ‘Yes, those events did happen. They were awful. They should never have happened. But let’s not miss the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of this medical scientific discovery. Let’s not allow the past to keep us from having a future.’”

Cardinal Gregory also joined Maryland’s bishops in urging the faithful to receive the vaccine once it is made available to them.

“Given the grave risk of harm to others, we strongly encourage the faithful to receive a vaccine against COVID, unless medically indicated otherwise,” the bishops wrote in a statement issued in December. “It is vitally important that the most vulnerable among us and those who are from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID receive the vaccine swiftly.”

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory holds a card signifying that he recently received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. At left is Dr. Norvell “Van” Coots, president and chief executive officer of Holy Cross Health. (Photo courtesy of Holy Cross Health/Mead Notkin) 

Both Maryland and the District of Columbia are following a phased-in rollout of vaccinations, prioritizing who should receive the vaccinations.

In Maryland, persons in Phases 1A, 1B and 1C are currently eligible to sign up for the COVID vaccine. They include:

Phase 1A: all licensed, registered, and certified healthcare providers; nursing home residents and staff; law enforcement, and firefighters, EMS, and other first responders; correctional healthcare staff and officers; and front line judiciary staff; Phase 1B:  Maryland residents who are 75 years and older; Marylanders in assisted living, independent living, developmental disabilities/behavioral health group homes, and other congregate facilities; high-risk incarcerated individuals; continuity of government vaccinations; and education, including K-12 teachers, support staff, and child care providers; and Phase 1C: adults age 65-74; public health and safety workers not covered in Phase 1A; and essential workers in lab services, food/agriculture production, manufacturing, the U.S. Postal Service, public transit, and grocery stores; and clergy and other essential support for houses of worship.

Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring is one of the vaccination sites in Montgomery County, Maryland. Eligible individuals can learn how to schedule an appointment at Holy Cross Hospital by visiting holycrosshealth.org/vaccine or through the Maryland vaccination site: covidvax.maryland.gov.

Holy Cross Hospital, on its website noted that it is “prioritizing Groups 1A and 1B and will open vaccine appointments to Group 1C in the future depending on the availability of vaccines and progress vaccinating higher priority groups.”

In the District of Columbia, persons in Phases 1A and 1B are currently eligible to sign up for the COVID vaccine. They include:

Health care providers; members of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department; residents of long-term and intermediate care facilities and residents of community residential facilities or group homes; District residents age 65 years old and older; individuals experiencing homelessness; members of the Metropolitan Police Department; continuity of District Government personnel; teachers and staff who are, or will be, working in person at a traditional or public charter school; child care workers and teachers and staff at independent schools in the city; and Department of Corrections employees and residents.

In the District of Columbia, the vaccine is not currently available specifically to clergy, but clergy and other essential church staff may be part of other prioritized groups that are eligible to receive the vaccine. 

Providence Health System in Northeast Washington is one of the locations in the District providing COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible residents. Eligible residents can schedule an appointment for a vaccination at Providence Health System Urgent Care by visiting vaccinate.dc.gov or calling 855-363-0333. When asked to pick a location for a vaccination, people can choose Providence Health System Urgent Care.

The District government, on its website, also said that “demand for the vaccine in D.C. is much higher than the supply we are receiving from federal government.”

The two currently available COVID-19 vaccines – the Pfizer and the Moderna – are being made available free of charge, per federal law. COVID vaccines are also being developed – but not yet available – by Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novavax.  

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pro-life and doctrine committees, “Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from the body of an aborted baby at any level of design, development, or production.”

However, those committees noted that both vaccines “are not completely free from any connection to abortion … as both Pfizer and Moderna made use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products. There is thus a connection, but it is relatively remote.” 

“At the level of the recipient, it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there are no alternatives,” the bishops said.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, administered between three and four weeks apart. The first shot helps the body recognize the virus and begin its immunization response and the second shot strengthens that response.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of Feb. 7, a little more than 8 percent of Marylanders have received their first dose of the vaccine and about 2.5 percent have received both. In the District, 10.4 percent of residents have received their first does of the vaccine and 3.7 percent have received both.

The CDC reports that after the administration of the second vaccine, it could take several weeks for a body to build up sufficient immunity to the virus. Also, while the vaccines are effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms, it is uncertain whether a vaccinated person can still catch the virus or pass it on to others.

The CDC stressed that people should continue to follow preventative measures such as wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, practicing social distancing and staying home when sick. 

As of Feb. 8, Maryland has reported 364,000 confirmed cases of COVID with 7,349 deaths. In the District, there have been slightly more than 38,000 confirmed cases of COVID with 952 deaths. The CDC reported Feb. 7 that nationwide, 27.8 million COVID cases have been diagnosed, resulting in more than 462,000 deaths.