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U.K.’s top archbishop says getting a coronavirus vaccination is a moral issue: ‘It’s how we love our neighbor’

In this Jan. 15, 2016 photo, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, addresses the media during a news conference in Canterbury, England. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

As the omicron variant spreads rapidly worldwide in the lead-up to Christmas, the Church of England’s most senior cleric offered an unwavering pronouncement: Getting a coronavirus vaccination and booster is a moral issue.

“Vaccination reduces … my chances of getting ill, [which] reduces my chances of infecting others — it’s very simple,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in an interview with the British station ITV on Tuesday. “Go and get boosted; get vaccinated. It’s how we love our neighbor.”

The archbishop’s statement comes as scientists in Britain are pushing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to order tougher restrictions as covid cases continue to climb. In the past seven days, over 600,000 new cases were recorded in the U.K. — an increase of more than 50 percent, according to The Washington Post’s covid tracker. On Monday, Johnson said he had no plans to implement new rules.

U.K. omicron cases explode, while Boris Johnson faces new allegations of lockdown parties

Masks are required in England in most indoor public spaces and on public transit, including taxis. But they are optional in restaurants, pubs and gyms. The rules vary in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. About 77 percent of Britain’s population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, The Post’s data shows.

Welby is one of several religious leaders in the U.K. teaming up with the government to push people across faiths to get vaccinations and boosters. But last week, the archbishop said in a radio interview that parishioners should still go to church on Christmas and wear a mask.

“I would say it’s a necessity; the worship of God is a necessity,” Welby said, according to Church Times, adding that Anglican houses of worship tend to be “large, cold, and [drafty],” making them “not great places for spreading infections.”

For months, religious leaders have used their positions to advocate for vaccinations. In August, Pope Francis urged Catholics to get vaccinated, calling it an “act of love.” Some rabbis, evangelical church leaders and imams have also worked to debunk misinformation about vaccines and endorse them as safe and lifesaving.

In his interview with ITV’s Julie Etchingham, Welby, who has been archbishop of Canterbury since 2013, acknowledged he may get blowback for calling vaccination against the coronavirus a moral issue.

“I’m going to step out on thin ice here and say yes, I think it is,” Welby said. “A lot of people won’t like that … but it’s not about me and my rights to choose, it’s about how I love my neighbor.”

Etchingham then asked whether it is a sin for someone to refuse vaccination if they are in good health and have no medical reason to avoid taking it. But Welby dodged the question, focusing more on the religious argument for getting the jab.

“Loving our neighbor is what Jesus told us to do,” Welby said. “It’s Christmas. Do what he said.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will probably challenge a key line of treatment for people with compromised immune systems — the drugs known as monoclonal antibodies.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

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