The rumor mill has been working overtime since the announcements of the apparent incredibly fast success of Project Warp Speed and possible COVID-19 vaccines. Many prolife people are rightfully concerned about using any vaccination that is not ethically created and are wondering if any of the inoculations contain the cells of aborted babies. So, whether you are looking for information on the possible COVID-19 immunizations, a list of alternatives, or think that fetal tissue being used in vaccines is fake news, you have come to the right place.
The basic science behind vaccines is that a weakened strain of a disease is created in a laboratory and then administered to the body. Because the disease is weakened, the immune system is more easily able to fight it off and develop antibodies to protect from further infection. The advent of vaccines is one of the most significant accomplishments of modern medicine, saving millions of lives and nearly eradicating once deadly diseases like smallpox and polio.
The use of tissue from aborted babies enters the process of vaccine development in two places. The first is in the “cell culture” the weakened disease is grown in. These cell cultures are derived from a “cell line” that has been cultivated in laboratories for years and can continue growing for an extremely long time. Different vaccines are grown in all sorts of things like monkey kidney cells, chicken eggs, insect cells, yeast, or synthetic growth media. Sadly, others are grown in cells derived from aborted babies. For example, the WI-38 cell line used in Barr Lab’s adenovirus vaccine was developed from the lung of an aborted female baby in 1962.
While none of the living cells from the aborted baby end up in vaccines using the cell lines, the cell lines are continually used to produce the vaccine, and there is a measurable amount of biological components and proteins from the baby’s cells present in the vaccine.
The second use of fetal cell lines in vaccine creation is in laboratory testing of some of them. It is important to know that the substance used for testing does not end up inside the actual vaccine; thus, there is a marked distinction between those vaccines grown in fetal cell tissue and those that were tested using fetal cell tissue.
Now that the basic science is out of the way, it is time to look specifically at the new COVID-19 vaccines. Currently there are only three that have been given the green light for emergency use: vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. Instead of injecting a weakened version of the coronavirus, this vaccine uses a modified adenovirus (a common cold virus) containing the genetic code for a part of the coronavirus. The adenovirus used in this vaccine is grown in the PER.C6 cell line, derived in 1985 from the retina of a healthy child aborted at 18 weeks.
Both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines are mRNA vaccines, meaning the vaccine is the genetic code for a part of a virus. Fats (tiny lipid particles) help this genetic code “infect” you instead of a weakened version of the coronavirus. These two vaccines are fetal tissue free and do not use any cell lines to produce them, which is good news. However, it must be noted that both were tested on cells from the HEK-293 cell line derived from the kidney of a child aborted in the Netherlands in 1973.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in other countries, but not the U.S. Several deaths from rare blood clots have been connected to AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which uses the HEK-293 cell line to grow the adenovirus used in it. One researcher looking into the cause suggests the proteins from the baby’s cells may be causing an immune reaction that causes clotting. It’s unclear if the similar clotting issue in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is connected to the use of fetal tissue.
There are many other vaccines in development, some of which use no fetal cell lines at all. A complete list of a COVID-19 vaccine candidates is maintained by the Charlotte Lozier Institute with information about their use of fetal cell lines.
The debate over the ethics of these vaccines is not new. Many past and current vaccines involve the use of fetal cell lines (many of which have alternatives, find a list of those here).
For decades, prolife people have opposed developing new cell lines or using the tissue of aborted babies. Many people will try to justify abortion and the further trafficking of fetal tissue with the “promise” of saved lives. However, whether it is with stem cells or vaccines, there is always an ethical alternative or the ability to create one. There is no need to take the life of one person to save the life of another.
However, the fact remains that some vaccines exist that use fetal cell lines and have no current ethical alternatives. Is it ethical to use those vaccines? Prolife people disagree. The cell lines were derived decades ago, and though their source is unethical, we can’t unkill those children. On the other hand, taking advantage of unethical methods promotes further abuses, in this case with the development of new cell lines. There’s a meaningful difference between a vaccine requiring use of fetal cells and one that only uses them for testing, but how meaningful is that difference? The risks are another ethical consideration, balancing the risk of the disease vs. the vaccine, and ways you fit into that balance.
You have to think about these ethics now, before any potential pushes begin to make these vaccines mandatory or connected to pandemic restrictions. Right to Life of Michigan will speak out for the conscience rights of people who have ethical objections to taking a vaccine developed through the use of unethically obtained tissue from aborted babies.
If informed consent is supposed to be a cornerstone of the practice of medicine, then it is past time for the entire healthcare industry to only use tissue donated with the informed consent of every person involved. We should refuse “donations” taken through unjust violence.