Vaccines: A shot in the arm for patriotism and for life


By Timothy Walch

This past year of pandemic has been likened to fighting a war with a horrible death count. With multiple vaccines at the ready, however, we can fight back against the enemy. Take that, COVID!


For many Americans, vaccination is not a big deal; they’ve been getting annual inoculations to fight the flu and the ravages of winter illness. It’s an annual reminder that we are vulnerable to some nasty diseases! These folks are eager to be vaccinated.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so enthusiastic. Recent polls reveal a sizeable number of individuals adamantly refuse to get a COVID shot. That’s frustrating because full protection of the nation can only be achieved if a substantial majority of the population is vaccinated. So how do we convince skeptics to get vaccinated? Appeal to love of country and to Catholic Social Teaching.


Frankly, inoculation can be viewed as a fundamental act of American patriotism. It might surprise many Americans that Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among the most ardent advocates of inoculation. They understood that immunization would protect citizen soldiers against unseen enemies.

In Washington’s case, the scourge was smallpox. He understood that a communicable virus would decimate his troops. Based on personal experience, he knew that smallpox would be a more challenging foe than the enemy on the battlefield. For that reason, he ordered the vaccination of every soldier in the Continental Army who had never had smallpox. This was one of many strokes of genius from the father of our country.

For Jefferson, inoculation was a matter of public health. He recognized that the safe transmission of vaccines was critical to potency. In fact, he was so committed to protecting the nation that he designed a container to transport vaccines effectively from state to state. One historian credits this action with maintaining public confidence and faith in the use of inoculation to fight disease.

Following the examples of Washington and Jefferson, other presidents committed their administrations to good science and public health. Of special note was the work that Franklin D. Roosevelt did in the search for a polio vaccine. Let’s not overlook former president Donald Trump who has been vaccinated and encouraged others to do likewise. Maybe we should give him back his Twitter privileges if he agrees to promote vaccination!

Will an appeal to patriotism work? I think so because many individuals who resist vaccination are patriotic. They have served their country in the military and many remain active in military organizations. Others are members of volunteer fire departments and other civic organizations. When someone in their community needs help, these good souls are eager to lift a hand.

The credo of the nation is to protect life, extend liberty and pursue happiness. Vaccines help us to preserve all three. Getting vaccinated also reflects church teaching on protecting life and the well-being of all. “I care about my health and the health of other people,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said just before receiving his shot. “I am getting vaccinated for the sake of the common good, for love of neighbor. Life is sacred and precious, and it is important that we be good stewards of our life and respect the life of others.”

We need to convince our hesitant neighbors to embrace their inner patriotism while also promoting respect for life. We need them to be like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and a legion of other patriots. We need them to be like our bishop and other clergy and lay people who chose vaccination for the sake of the common good.

(Timothy Walch is a lay director of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville and a member of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Messenger. He can be reached at:

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