A woman receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, March 5, 2021. Some Kenyan Catholic doctors are saying no to the vaccine, but bishops are telling citizens to accept the inoculations. (CNS photo/Monicah Mwangi, Reuters)

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — Days after a Catholic doctors association urged Kenyans to shun the COVID-19 vaccines, the country’s bishops have told the citizens to accept the inoculations.

The bishops said it was licit and ethically acceptable to receive all the vaccines the government recognized as clinically genuine, safe and effective.

They also said they would make the church’s health care facilities network available so the vaccine rollout could be well-coordinated.

Their comments came after Kenya received the first shipment of 1 million vaccines from the global COVAX initiative and started vaccinating groups considered more exposed.

“In absence of other means to stop or even prevent the COVID-19 pandemic, the common good calls for vaccination, primarily to protect the weakest and most exposed. In this regard, receiving the available COVID-19 vaccines ought to be understood as an act of charity toward other community members,” said Archbishop Philip Anyolo, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a statement, the archbishop also noted the vaccine can only be given to an individual who gives informed consent.

“We therefore appeal to the conscience of Kenyans to accept the vaccines in the light of the assurance given by the Ministry of Health,” said Archbishop Anyolo. They also urged all Kenyans to adhere to prevention protocols.

In early March, the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association said the COVID-19 vaccine was unnecessary. The association said the only known means of controlling the spread was through wearing masks, treatment of patients and ensuring all infected patients were observed for 10-14 days.

“We appeal to all the people of Kenya to avoid taking the vaccines,” said Dr. Stephen Karanja, association chairman.

The doctors association — which indicates it has fewer than 1,000 members — had voiced concerns about the motive behind the vaccines.

“While discussing COVID-19 and the attendant experimental vaccines, it is important to keep the words of Bill Gates in mind all the time, that the world is overpopulated, that we will not go back to normal until the majority of the world population is vaccinated and suggest that people will need digital vaccine certificates/passports before we can go back to normal,” the statement said in part. “Mark you Bill Gates is not a medical doctor … It seems there is something Bill Gates has invested that requires the whole world to be vaccinated to succeed. What the investment (was) remains a million dollar question. ”

But the bishops said the doctors were speaking on their own.

“It must be understood that those doctors cannot and should not purport to speak in the name of the Catholic Church,” said Archbishop Anyolo.