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Bishops publish sample letters demanding ethical vaccines from pharmaceutical companies


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John Burger - published on 04/15/21

U.S. Bishops Conference urge people to get vaccinated, but to also lobby companies to develop drugs without abortion connection.
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Catholics not only can but should be vaccinated against COVID-19, bishops say. But they also should urge pharmaceutical companies to work toward development of vaccines without any connection to abortion.

To help Catholics do so, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published sample letters on its website that send such a message to pharmaceutical companies. 

“In the documents listed here, the Vatican urges everyone concerned for the sanctity of life to protest the use of abortion-derived cell lines and advocate for the development of vaccines with no connection to abortion,” says a note on the USCCB website. “To make it easier to take this action, we provide the following sample letters to pharmaceutical companies that are using abortion-derived cell lines to produce and/or test vaccines.”

There are currently seven sample letters on the website but not all deal with COVID vaccines. There are also letters to GlaxoSmithKline for its Shingrix vaccine against shingles, and Merck for its MMR, Chickenpox, and Hepatitis-A vaccines.


In January, the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities assembled a list of Frequently Asked Questions about ethical considerations of vaccines. The FAQ explained that several decades ago, tissue harvested from the bodies of aborted babies was used to create certain cell lines for research purposes. 

“The cells in these lines are, in effect, the descendants of those cells that were originally harvested,” the FAQ said. “They have been made to replicate themselves and some cell lines can be reproduced indefinitely. These abortion-derived cell lines are used as a ‘factory’ to manufacture certain vaccines (e.g. rubella, chickenpox, some of the COVID-19 vaccines, etc.). The cells themselves, however, are not present in the vaccines that patients receive.”

According to the FAQ, the Church has taught that it is “wrong to create abortion-derived cell lines and for pharmaceutical companies to utilize them, that the use of vaccines produced with such cell lines should be avoided if comparable alternatives with no connection to abortion are available, that grave reasons (e.g., serious health risks) may justify the use of vaccines produced with these cell lines when there are no such alternatives, and that everyone concerned for the sanctity of life should protest the use of these cell lines and advocate for the development of vaccines with no connection to abortion.” 

The document pointed out that while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 made use of such cell lines in the testing of the vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used an abortion-derived cell line in development, production and testing. With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, therefore, the use of such cell lines is “very remote from the initial evil of the abortion.” 

The FAQ concluded: “Given that the COVID-19 virus can involve serious health risks, it can be morally acceptable to receive a vaccine that uses abortion-derived cell lines if there are no other available vaccines comparable in safety and efficacy with no connection to abortion.” The document said that there are some vaccines still being developed that make no use of such cell lines, but they are not yet available for the public. 

“If it is possible to choose among a number of equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen,” the FAQ said. “If a vaccine with no connection to abortion-derived cell lines is not readily available, vaccines that used such cell lines only for testing would be preferable to those that use such cell lines for ongoing production. Such choices may not be possible, however, especially in the early stages of vaccine distribution. In that case, one may receive any of the clinically recommended vaccines in good conscience with the assurance that reception of such vaccines does not involve immoral cooperation in abortion.” 


In a March 2 statement amplifying the distinction between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson one, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, nevertheless affirmed that being vaccinated in the current situation is a positive thing.

“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,” Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann wrote.

The bishops’ letter-writing campaign also includes a sample letter to the Sanofi Pasteur pharmaceutical company, which last fall, decided it would no longer use an aborted fetal cell line to produce its polio combination vaccines Pentacel and Quadracel.

“After the move was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Greg Schleppenbach, associate director of the pro-life secretariat, sent an alert to diocesan pro-life directors about the development and asking them to in turn send a message of thanks to Sanofi Pasteur,” Catholic News Service reported.

Schleppenbach said in his alert that it’s important to recognize and thank drug companies when they move away from unethical vaccine production. “We can hope that, with some encouragement, other vaccine manufacturers may consider creating other morally acceptable vaccines,” he said. 

CoronavirusInformation about the vaccine against COVID-19
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