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Medical associations call for ethical production of COVID-19 vaccines


Diris Lima Centro

John Burger - published on 12/03/20

Recent history of successful vaccines avoiding use of aborted material should encourage current quest in fighting coronavirus.
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There are ethical ways to produce a vaccine for COVID-19, and scientists should be pursuing them, said four medical organizations in a joint statement.

The statement, signed by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Pediatricians, Catholic Medical Association, and Christian Medical and Dental Associations, discusses several vaccines that are making their way to approval by health officials and use by the public. It points out that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines that used abortion-derived fetal cells in their animal-phase testing, but, “commendably, it does not appear that production methods utilized such cells.”

Another method to come up with a vaccine is the use of adenoviruses, a group of common respiratory viruses. Unfortunately, companies such as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson use abortion-derived fetal cell lines to produce these vaccines, the statement points out. 

“Sadly, many other current vaccine candidates being developed also utilize cell lines derived from aborted babies for their production,” the statement says. 

Recent medical history shows that ethical production of vaccines is possible, the medical groups say. In recent decades, more than 50 viral vaccines have been approved using an attenuated or inactivated vaccine, said their statement. Many of these vaccines have not utilized abortion-derived fetal cell lines for their production. Rather, the statement says, the virus is grown in the laboratory and harvested, then weakened or inactivated to serve as a safe vaccine. 

Some scientific institutes, such as the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Coralville, Iowa, have found ethical ways to produce vaccines, without resorting to the use of cells from aborted human embryos or fetuses. The John Paul II institute uses umbilical cord and adult stem cells. 

“These and other ethical approaches provide encouragement for the future, where no vaccine will violate the dignity of human life in their production,” the statement says. 

“It is long overdue for researchers to abandon the use of abortion-derived cells,” the statement says. “When all approved vaccines are fully ethical, from development to production, our physician-led organizations and like-minded Americans will no longer question their use.”

Call for transparency

Healthcare professionals and hospital systems should make the source of their vaccines known to the public, with specific information regarding those that are ethically produced, the new statement urges. “Providing this transparency to those who rely on them is a foundation of good medical care.”

The statement directs interested persons to the website of the Charlotte Lozier Institute  for current information on potential COVID-19 vaccines, including details regarding the possible use of abortion-derived fetal cell lines. The CLI on Thursday published a new chart detailing whether the eight leading vaccine candidates supported by Operation Warp Speed are produced or tested using cells derived from abortions. CLI’s analysis found that a majority of vaccine candidates did not use abortion-derived cell lines in their production. Several used abortion-derived cell lines in laboratory testing, or their use in testing could not be determined.

“Unfortunately, some vaccine developers have unnecessarily put American families in a difficult position by choosing to use controversial human fetal cell lines in production or testing, or by a lack of transparency,” CLI said in a statement. “Many developers already opt to use animal cell lines, non-fetal human cells, yeast, or chicken eggs instead. We urge all developers to avail themselves of these options going forward. Doing so will reduce vaccine hesitancy for those who oppose the use of fetal cell lines, thereby increasing the public health impact of the vaccine.”

Moral guidance

There has been discussion about the moral permissibility of receiving a vaccine that may have been produced or tested in part with the use of human fetal material originally derived from an abortion. 

In late November, the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ conference committees said that it would not be not be “immoral to be vaccinated with” the COVID-19 vaccines recently announced by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna.

“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,” the two bishops said in a memo to all the bishops of the United States. “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.”

“There is thus a connection, but it is relatively remote,” the bishops said in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Catholic News Service. “Some are asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines, then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching.”

For the recipient, they said, citing Church teaching, “it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there are no alternatives and there is a serious risk to health.”

Catholic moral theologian John Haas, president emeritus and senior fellow at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in an interview with the National Catholic Register, explained that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a 2008 document, Dignitas Personae (“The Dignity of the Person”), said that the Church “reminds scientists that the ethical value of biomedical science is gauged in reference to both the unconditional respect owed to every human being at every moment of his or her existence.” 

“However, that same document went on to say that those who are far removed from the evil act of abortion and who were in no way involved in it or in the development of the cell lines developed from it and, indeed, may be completely unaware of its origins, could, for grave reasons make use of such vaccines if no others were available,” Haas summarized. 

“Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material,’” he said. “Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.”

Haas went on to discuss Moderna and Pfizer’s use of research and testing that depended on the HEK293 cell line derived from a baby aborted in the 1970s. He clarified that HEK293 was not used in the manufacturing process but was used for confirmatory testing. 

“It would have been better if there had been no ‘connection’ at all, but it was not used for the manufacture of the vaccine so there would be a very distant ‘connection,’” Haas said. “On the other hand, the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford vaccine is being produced in aborted fetal cell lines.”

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