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Conscience Magazine

Opposition to Use of Fetal Cells to Develop COVID-19 Vaccines

September 16, 2020

Senior Catholic leaders in the United States and Canada, as well as anti- abortion groups, are raising ethical objections against promising COVID-19 vaccines manufactured using fetal cells derived from voluntary donations of post-abortion material. They have not sought to block government funding for the vaccines, which include two candidate vaccines the Trump administration plans to support and a third made by a Chinese company in collaboration with Canada’s National Research Council (NRC). They are, however, urging funders and policymakers to ensure that companies develop other vaccines that do not rely on such human fetal cell lines. In addition, they are asking the US government to “incentivize” firms to only make vaccines that don’t rely on fetal cells.

Cells derived from abor- tions have been used since the 1960s in vaccines, including current vaccines against rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A and shingles. They have also been used to make approved drugs against diseases, including hemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis. According to the World Health Organization, more than 130 candidate vaccines against COVID-19 are in development. At least five of these are reported to use one of two human fetal cell lines.

The Trump administration has restricted the use of human fetal tissue from abortions in biomedical research. It adopted a policy last year that forbids researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from using fetal tissue from abortions in their studies. It also imposed an extra layer of review on non-NIH scien- tists seeking agency funding to do research using such tissue. But the policy did not stop researchers from using decades-old fetal cell lines in COVID-19 research under Operation Warp Speed.

The Vatican approves of Catholics receiving vaccines manufactured using human fetal cells only in the absence of alternatives.