Vaccine hesitancy among religious groups over use of fetal tissue in development

With the White House’s announcement of plans for all adults to be vaccinated by May, it is making the distant possibility more of a reality for many in Michiana. 

The vaccine rollout sparked conversations about morality among pro-life and religious groups. 

That is because many vaccines developed using the latest technology available includes using specialized cells that come from aborted fetal tissue. That includes the available Pfizer, Moderna Johnson & Johnson vaccines. 

Those cells are not actually in the Pfizer or Moderna shots, but in the testing or making of the vaccines. Johnson & Johnson, raised concerns as those cells are used during its existing manufacturing process, but there is no fetal tissue in the vaccine.  

“The use of fetal cell lines, human cell lines, has been used in vaccines for some time now,” Principal Investigator Dr. James Harris, said. “I think it’s being increasingly used because we can develop new vaccines more effectively, more efficiently with more of a greater, broad-spread use for the vaccines down the road.”  

Dr. Harris oversees the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial at the South Bend Clinic, one of just about 100 sites used as a trial facility. Research from the South Bend Clinic played a hand in getting the FDA’s approval of the emergency use authorization. The technology that uses the tissue cells makes our vaccines possible, according to Harris. 

“For right now, it’s the best way to develop these vaccines until something better is available, I think it’s the technology we need to use and will continue to use,” Harris said. “What I can tell you is that these were developed a long time ago and they’re immortalized meaning, they are using the same cell line over many years, frankly, and this is cell is very far removed from any fetal tissue that was used originally.”  

The material from the fetal tissue originated decades ago and it is raising concerns among religious and pro-life groups in Michiana when it comes to getting vaccinated. 

“What we ask people to take into consideration is, you know, the value and dignity of human life,” Right to Life Michiana Executive Director Jackie Appleman said. “And the fact is, you know, fetal cells, even though this was an abortion that happened back in the 80s. You know, that life still has value for it to be used and the development of a vaccine that you’re injecting into your body is something to consider as you’re deciding which vaccine to take.”  

The Vatican released the following statement in December, saying in part: 

“In this sense, when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available (e.g. in countries where vaccines without ethical problems are not made available to physicians and patients, or where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage and transport conditions, or when various types of vaccines are distributed in the same country but health authorities do not allow citizens to choose the vaccine with which to be inoculated) it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.” 

University of Notre Dame welcomed the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with plans to vaccinate Hoosiers, offering only the single-dose shot during a mass vaccination clinic planned for March 26 and 27. 

University of Notre Dame released the following statement: 

"The University of Notre Dame was asked by state and county health officials to support the inoculation of eligible Indiana residents against COVID-19. Given the gravity of the pandemic, the urgent need for vulnerable populations to be vaccinated in order to save lives, and the current general inability to choose between available vaccines, Notre Dame has determined that it is in the interest of the common good to collaborate with the state and county health departments to facilitate all available forms of the vaccine."  

Some leaders in religious and pro-life groups recommend that people pay special attention to choosing their vaccine, dependent on which is the furthest removed from the cell lines. 

Bishop Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend said a lot of times there is no choice and when you are dealing with something as difficult as the pandemic, it is not immoral to get vaccinated. 

"Of course, we don't like the idea that, you know, vaccines were developed to begin with from using abortion-derived cell lines, but that's just reality,” Bishop Rhoades said. “That's the way it is and we don't want anyone to get the impression that this, in any way, lessens our opposition to the evil of abortion." 

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