Pharmaceutical companies in recent days announced promising trial results of three separate vaccines, boosting hopes that the worldwide pandemic could be months away from an end.
Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna/National Institutes of Health, and Astrazeneca/University of Oxford each released results from their phase 3 trials showing the vaccines to be at least 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19.
But from a pro-life perspective, the three vaccines were not created equal.
The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute lists the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as “ethically uncontroversial,” yet it lists the Astrazeneca/Oxford vaccine as “unethical” because of its use of a fetal cell line, derived from an abortion, in the design, development and production of the vaccine. The Lozier Institute is the research and education institute of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.
Representatives of the National Catholic Bioethics Center reached a similar conclusion, as did the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Both said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are ethically sound.
Following is a more detailed overview of the three vaccines:
Neither the Pfizer vaccine (known as BNT162b2) nor the Moderna vaccine (mRNA-1273) used fetal cells in their design, development or production. Because of this, the Charlotte Lozier Institute lists both as “ethically uncontroversial.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a memo on Nov. 23 approving the ethical soundness of both vaccines.
“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 memo said.
Some controversy, though, has surrounded the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because a fetal cell line was used in a later testing stage. The fetal cell line (known as HEK293) was derived from an abortion in the 1960s or 70s.
John Brehany of the National Catholic Bioethics Center said the action by Pfizer and Moderna is far less problematic than using it in the design, development and production stages.
“The Moderna vaccine and [the] Pfizer vaccine, which are closest to implementation, are not produced using the [fetal] cell lines,” Brehany told Currents News. “… They did come in at a certain point in the process, sort of at a final stage ... in testing, but they are not produced using those cell lines, like many other vaccines are.”
The U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops called the connections between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and the fetal cell line “relatively remote.”
Because the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines did not use fetal cell lines in their design, development or production, they do not contain traces of DNA from the aborted fetus within the vaccine itself – as does the Astrazeneca/University of Oxford vaccine.
Astrazeneca/University of Oxford Vaccine
The Astrazeneca/Oxford vaccine (known as AZD1222) used the HEK293 fetal cell line – derived from an abortion in the 1960s or 70s – during all four stages: the design, development, production and testing phases.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute lists it as “unethical.”
The use of the HEK293 fetal cell line means the Astrazeneca/Oxford vaccine contains a trace of the DNA from the aborted fetus, according to Politifact. Paul A. Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a video this summer that vaccines derived from fetal cells contain “small quantities of trace DNA” from the abortion “in the vaccines.”
Photo courtesy: Daniel Schludi/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.