Pope Francis, Pope Benedict receive COVID-19 vaccine: Vatican

Both Pope Francis and former pope Benedict have received the first dose of a vaccine against coronavirus, the Vatican said on Thursday.

Francis's personal doctor, Fabrizio Soccorsi, died last week after COVID-19 battle

Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer on Epiphany at the Vatican on Jan. 6. Coronavirus restrictions have seen the Pope-led masses take place in front of restricted audiences. (Vatican Media/Reuters)

Both Pope Francis and former pope Benedict have received the first dose of a vaccine against coronavirus, the Vatican said on Thursday.

The 84-year-old Pope and the 93-year-old former pope got their jabs as part of a Vatican vaccination program that began on Wednesday.

Both men are vulnerable to contracting the virus because of their age, and the measures could help with any vaccine hesitancy among the world's 1.3 billion Catholics.

Francis is perhaps more at risk because part of one of his lungs were removed following an illness when he was a young man in his native Argentina.

Benedict is frail and suffering from a number of ailments related to old age, such as arthritis.

Pope Francis said on the weekend that everyone should get vaccinated. "It is an ethical choice because you are gambling with your health, with your life, but you are also gambling with the lives of others," he told Italy's Canale 5 TV station.

Francis has encouraged receiving the vaccine

In the interview, Francis said people should trust doctors and not refuse the vaccine unless they had good medical reasons because their lives and those of others depended on it.

"I really don't understand why some people say this could be a dangerous vaccine. If doctors say it can work well and you don't have special dangers, why not take it? There is a suicidal denialism that I would not know how to explain, but the vaccine must be taken," he said.

It is not clear if Francis's lung issue explains why he has often opted not to wear a mask while delivering mass.

Former pope Benedict XVI is shown June 22, 2020 at the airport in Munich in his native Germany. Benedict, who was pontiff between 2005 and 2013, is 93 years old. (Sven Hoppe/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the Pope's personal doctor, Fabrizio Soccorsi, 78, died of complications from COVID-19. Soccorsi, who was in hospital and was being treated for cancer, had been Francis's doctor since 2015.

The Vatican has only several hundred residents. Most of its employees live in Italy and they too will be getting the vaccine.

There have been fewer than 30 cases of coronavirus in Vatican City, most of them among the Swiss Guard, who live in a communal barracks.

With files from CBC News

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