All over the world, people are looking forward to the new vaccines against covid-19. Seven different international groups are working on the vaccines. Some Catholics have raised questions about the morality of these vaccines because the companies involved are known to use fetal tissue from aborted fetuses in their research and development.
A group of bishops has recently issued a statement. It is a long, technical and complex statement (about a complex subject), but to cut to the chase: when the vaccines are released, it will be morally acceptable for Catholics to receive them.
Furthermore, the Catholic Health Association (CHA), in collaboration with bioethicists from many countries, looked at the Pontifical Academy of Life’s 2017 guidelines on vaccine development. They analyzed the seven companies involved in “Project Warp Speed” in light of the Vatican guidelines. They concluded that “there is nothing morally prohibitive” about the new covid-19 vaccines.
Both Pfizer and Moderna use fetal tissue from aborted babies in the course of their drug business. As such, these companies are not free of corporate sin. The same is true of three other drug companies working on a vaccine, including AstraZeneca. These corporations make profits from the use of this tissue, which indirectly pays for the infrastructure supporting their vaccine research. Furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that some fetal tissue was involved in the development of generic materials that later found their way into the vaccine research. Finally, these companies make and sell abortion drugs, which is quite profitable.
This is a problem with all vaccines. The fetal tissue in question was used to develop the measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, polio and other common vaccines years ago. The drug companies in question built their fortune on these drugs. The CHA points out that these vaccines did not have to be developed using aborted fetuses, but it saved time and money and maximized profits.
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The Vatican, the USCCB and the CHA all agree: the use of fetal tissue and the profit from abortion drugs is so remote to the current research that it is acceptable to use the new vaccines. Catholics must, however, continue to encourage the drug companies to stop using fetal tissue in any form.
Two companies involved in Operation Warp Speed have already done do. The French based company Sanofi Pasteur, whose motto is “empowering life”, has adapted the Pontifical Academy of Life’s guidelines and is no longer involved in abortion in any manner. The American company Inovio Pharmaceuticals also foregoes the use of stem cells and other cell lines taken from fetuses.
Here are some resources for further reading:
Catholic News Service: summary of the Rhoades-Naumann memo
CHA statement about COVID-19 vaccines
CHA Letter to the FDA about ethical vaccine research
Pontifical Academy for Life: Note on Italian Vaccines
Pontifical Academy for Life: The Human Community in a time of pandemic