- There's been some concern about the use of abortion-derived fetal cell lines in the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines.
- However, the Roman Catholic Church has issued a statement saying that it is “morally acceptable” to receive the vaccine.
- Experts say no fetal tissue is involved; the cells are grown in laboratories.
- Taking the first COVID-19 vaccine available to you will help us get the pandemic under control much more quickly.
There's been some controversy surrounding the use of fetal cell lines in the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines.
However, on March 2, leaders in the Roman Catholic Church released a statement saying that it's “morally acceptable” to receive the vaccine.
The statement further suggested that, if one has the ability to choose, it's preferable to take the one with the least connection to these cell lines.
In practical terms, this means choosing the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson uses fetal cell lines in the production of its vaccine, whereas Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna do not.
The statement concluded by saying: “While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”
What are fetal cell lines, and why are they not fetal tissue?
According to Dr. Aleena Banerji, a member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, fetal cell lines are not the same thing as fetal tissue.
“Fetal cell lines are cells that are in fact grown in a laboratory setting,” Banerji said.
Banerji explained that these cell lines were taken from elective abortions in the 1970s and 1980s. Those individual cells from the 1970s and 1980s have since been grown in the lab for 30 to 40 years, creating fetal cell lines.
“Current fetal cell lines are generations removed from the original fetal tissue and they do not contain any tissue from a fetus,” she said.
How are they involved in the production of COVID-19 vaccines?
Fetal cells lines are used in vaccine research because viruses need cells in which to grow. Viruses that can infect humans grow best in human cells.
“Neither the Pfizer nor Moderna vaccines used fetal cell lines during the development or production phases, so there are no fetal cells in the vaccine,” Banerji said.
“However, both of these companies used the fetal cell line HEK-293 in the confirmation phase to ensure the vaccines work,” she said.
HEK-293 is a kidney cell line that was isolated from a fetus in 1973. It's unknown whether it originated from a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or an elective abortion.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, has made more extensive use of fetal cell lines.
It required the use of a cell line called PER.C6 in both its development and manufacture.
PER.C6 is a retinal cell line that was isolated from a fetus in 1985.
It uses a fetal cell line in its manufacture because it uses a modified adenovirus as the carrier for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein gene. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines do not use a viral carrier.
The use of cell lines in this manner isn't new. They've been used in a wide range of medical therapies for decades.
In fact, many people are already taking medications we wouldn't have today without the use of this technology.
Why is it important to take whichever vaccine becomes available first?
While Catholic Church leaders favor taking the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines if possible, public health officials say it's important to take whichever vaccine becomes available to you first.
A fully vaccinated population is the quickest way to achieve control of the pandemic.
While there's a difference in effectiveness between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, all vaccines are effective against COVID-19, according to Banerji.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has lauded the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, stating that it is an important tool to vaccinate “as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.”
The CDC says that by taking steps like wearing masks, physical distancing, and avoiding crowed spaces — while at the same time working to get everyone fully vaccinated — we will save lives and be able to return to normal life much more quickly.