COVID-19 vaccines and abortion-derived cell lines
With the development of the COVID-19 vaccines, some pro-lifers have expressed concerns about whether and how those vaccines are connected to cell lines derived from abortion—and about the ethics of taking them. Here are some facts and resources to help you think about this issue.
The first two COVID-19 vaccines to receive approval—the ones created by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—are called mRNA vaccines. The manufacturing of mRNA vaccines doesn’t involve cells at all. So neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine is developed or produced using cell lines originating from fetal tissue. (Such a cell line was, however, used for confirmatory lab testing.) The Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life research organization, classifies the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as “ethically uncontroversial.”
Some of the other COVID-19 vaccines, though, are manufactured with the help of cell lines originating from fetal tissue. They include the vaccines created by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. To be clear, however, these vaccines aren’t made with fetal tissue; nor did any abortion occur in their development process. Rather, producing these vaccines involves using lines of cells that originated from fetal tissue decades ago (the lines no longer contain the original fetal cells). Notably, although the cell lines help create the vaccines (by growing viruses), the vaccines themselves don't contain any of the cells.
One of the cell lines—called HEK-293 and used to make the AstraZeneca vaccine—was derived from an aborted or miscarried baby in 1973 (it’s unknown if the baby died from abortion or miscarriage). Another historical cell line—called PER.C6 and used to make the Johnson & Johnson vaccine—was derived from an aborted baby in 1985.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute has compiled information about the different COVID-19 vaccines and their connections to abortion, as well as background science about vaccine production and how fetal cell lines are used.
What about the ethics of the COVID-19 vaccines? Below are links to articles from pro-life ethicists and other pro-life sources. MCCL does not necessarily endorse all the views expressed in the articles. We simply provide them as resources that may be helpful to you.
Statement from pro-life scholars on the moral acceptability of receiving COVID-19 vaccines (Ethics and Public Policy Center)
The COVID vaccines and the pro-life movement (Prof. Melissa Moschella)
Moral considerations regarding the new COVID vaccines (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)
Vatican says use of COVID vaccines “morally acceptable” (Vatican News)
Addressing concerns about fetal cells and COVID vaccines (Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission)
The COVID vaccines are not morally compromised (Prof. Melissa Moschella)
Is receiving the COVID vaccine ethical? (Dr. Jeffrey Barrows and Jonathan Imbody, Christian Medical Association)
The ethics of using cells of illicit origin (Prof. Christopher Tollefsen)
Why we plan to get vaccinated: A Christian moral perspective (Matthew Arbo, C. Ben Mitchell, Andrew T. Walker)
Vaccines and moral cooperation (Fr. Matthew P. Schneider)