No one should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against COVID-19, a potentially fatal disease and violating their conscience.7 It is critically important that we have access to a vaccine that is produced ethically. Thus, the question is, have the current COVID-19 vaccines been produced ethically? We must answer this question if we hold a pro-life stance. So, whom do we believe when we are offered the vaccine? Catholic leaders and pro-life groups are raising ethical objections to promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates that are manufactured using cells derived from human fetuses electively aborted decades ago.7
“As of January 5, 2021, The New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker listed 64 vaccines in human trials, and at least 85 preclinical vaccines were under investigation in animals.”12 “At least five of the COVID-19 vaccines in production use one of two human fetal cell lines.” Two of the five vaccines have entered human trials. “In four of the vaccines, the human fetal cells are used as miniature “factories” to generate vast quantities of viral material, disabled so they cannot replicate…” and cause COVID-19. When the viral materials are given as a vaccine, recipient’s cells begin to produce proteins, hopefully triggering a protective immune response.7 The two most known vaccines using this technology are made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
A fifth vaccine, Novavax, which has shown promise in monkeys went to human trials this last summer. This is known as a protein sub-unit vaccine. Researchers use fetal cells to manufacture the coronavirus’ spike protein, a vital part of its structure. This spike protein is what triggers the immune response.7
Why can’t other cells be used? Because these cells are uniquely capable of rapidly multiplying modified viral material. In other words, this is the quickest way of making a traditional vaccine.2 Because of the COVID pandemic, there is an imperative to create a vaccine quickly. Operation Warp Speed has as its goal to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines by January 2021.14
It is the human origin of the cells that is important. “Cultured animal cells can produce the same proteins, but they would be decorated with different sugar molecules, which -in the case of vaccines- runs the risk of failing to evoke a robust and specific immune response.”7 The scientists want to test the vaccine “to see if it would work within a human cell before they injected it into a human body.”10 They also use the fetal cells to check for potential side effects or damage to the cells.9 The “vaccine makers may use these fetal cell lines in any of the following three stages of vaccine development:
- Development: Identifying what works
- Confirmation: Making sure it works
- Production: Manufacturing the formula that works”11
Other technologies are available, including using cells captured from amniocentesis that are engineered to make replication-deficient adenoviruses.”7 The John Paul II Medical Research Institute uses umbilical-cord and adult stem cells. These and other ethical approaches provide encouragement for the future.4 But we must remember, any vaccine that relies on these historic cell lines will not require new abortions.13 None of the COVID-19 vaccines use fetal cells from recent abortions.
“Five … proposed vaccines are considered to be ‘ethical’ based on expert scientific analysis concluding that they did not rely upon aborted fetal cells for their design, nor do they use such cells in their production.”1 “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.”5 They are both made from mRNA (instructions) that tell the body how to produce its own spike protein.1 They are synthetically produced. “They are not completely free from any connection to abortion, however, as both Pfizer and Moderna made use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products.”5
So, in “summary:
- No COVID-19 vaccine currently on the market contains cells from aborted fetuses.
- A replica cell line from a fetus aborted in 1973 was used to develop the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine. However, the vaccine itself does not contain fetal cells.
- New mRNA vaccines, such as those being developed by Pfizer and Moderna, are synthetic vaccines, sequenced on a computer in a lab, and do not use fetal cell lines in their production.”2
Novavax and Sanofi Pasteur have vaccines that are still in trials, but will likely be approved for use as well. They do not use the fetal cell lines in development.9
Therefore, in the absence of any untainted vaccine, the individual may in good conscience receive the vaccine, in spite of the abortion connection, when the good of protecting oneself and others outweighs the harm arising from the abortion connection.8
Additionally, Al Mohler (Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) and Joe Carter (The Gospel Coalition) indicate that our decision whether to take the vaccine or not should be rooted in love of our neighbor9, “… ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)
Virginia Brendemuehl, RN, BSN, BS
1. Eric A. Failing. “Covid-19 Vaccines Explained”, Archdiocese of Philadelphia Office for Life and Family, 2020. http://phillycatholiclife.org/life-affirming-choices-3/covid-19-vaccines-explained/
2. FactCheckNI. “COVID-19 vaccines and aborted fetuses”, December 7, 2020. https://factcheckni.org/articles/covid-19-vaccines-and-aborted-fetuses/
3. Jennifer Brown and John Ingold. “Colorado bishops warn Catholics about morality of COVID-19 vaccines, citing fetal cells”, The Colorado Sun, December 16, 2020. https://coloradosun.com/2020/12/16/covid-19-vaccine-aborted-fetal-cells/
4. Julie Asher. “Pro-life physician-led groups weigh in on development of COVID-19 vaccines”, Catholic News Service, December 4, 2020. https://www.catholicnews.com/pro-life-physician-led-groups-weigh-in-on-development-of-covid-19-vaccines/
5. Julie Asher. “Use of Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines is morally acceptable, say bishops”, National Catholic Reporter, November 25, 2020. https://www.ncronline.org/news/coronavirus/use-pfizer-moderna-covid-19-vaccines-morally-acceptable-say-bishops
6. Melissa Moschella, PhD. “The Covid Vaccine and the Pro-Life Movement”, The Heritage Foundation, December 9th, 2020. https://www.heritage.org/public-health/commentary/the-covid-vaccine-and-the-pro-life-movement
7. Meredith Wadman. “Abortion opponents protest COVID-19 vaccines’ use of fetal cells”, Science, June 5, 2020. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/abortion-opponents-protest-covid-19-vaccines-use-fetal-cells
8. Andrew Walker. “Fetal Tissue and the Covid-19 Vaccine”, Andrew T. Walker, November 17, 2020. https://andrewtwalker.com/2020/11/fetal-tissue-and-the-covid-19-vaccine/
9. Rebecca Randall. “3 Bioethical Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines” Christianity Today, January 12, 2021. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/january-web-only/covid-19-vaccine-christian-ethical-questions-fetal-cells.html
10. Isis Romero. “Trust Index: No, there is not fetal tissue in the BOVID-19 vaccines”, KSAT.com, January 13, 2021. https://www.ksat.com/news/local/2021/01/14/trust-index-no-there-is-not-fetal-tissue-in-the-covid-19-vaccines/
11. James Lawler, MD. “Do the COVID-19 vaccines contain aborted fetal cells?”, Nebraska Medicine, December 28, 2020. https://www.nebraskamed.com/COVID/you-asked-we-answered-do-the-covid-19-vaccines-contain-aborted-fetal-cells
12. David J. Cennimo, MD, more… “COVID-19 Vaccines”, Medscape, January 14, 2021. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2500139-overview
13. “COVID-19 Vaccines & Fetal Cell Lines”, North Dakota Health, Accessed January 17, 2021. https://www.health.nd.gov/sites/www/files/documents/COVID%20Vaccine%20Page/COVID-19%20Vaccine%20Fetal%20Cell%20Handout.pdf
14. “Fact Sheet: Explaining Operation Warp Speed”, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Accessed January 17, 2021. https://www.hhs.gov/coronavirus/explaining-operation-warp-speed/index.html