Use of fetal tissue in vaccine development
The use of fetal tissue in vaccine development is the practice of researching, developing, and producing vaccines through growing viruses in cultured (laboratory-grown) human fetal cells. Since the cell strains in use originate from abortions, there has been opposition to the practice and the resulting vaccines on religious and moral grounds.
Vaccine experts and manufacturers state that vaccines do not contain any of the original fetal tissue or cells, that the abortions occurred decades ago and replenishment with new tissue has not occurred. Although the vaccines are purified from cell debris, traces of human DNA fragments inevitably remain.
The Catholic Church has encouraged its members to use alternative vaccines, produced without human cell lines, if possible. However, in cases where the public health risks of refusing vaccination may outweigh "the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine", believers are "morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion".
Immortalised cell lines are an important research tool offering a stable medium for experiments. These are derived either from tumors, which have developed resistance to senescence, or, in a few cases, from stem cells taken from aborted fetuses. Fetal cell lines have been used in the manufacture of vaccines since 1930s. One of the first medical applications of fetal tissues was their use in the production of the first polio vaccines. For example, in the 1950s, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden propagated a polio virus in fetal cells to make into a polio vaccine. The resulting vaccine was given to about 2,000 children.
Many other vaccines, including those for chicken pox and rubella, are made using fetal tissue from two pregnancies terminated in the 1960s, for reasons unrelated to vaccine development. Descendants of the fibroblast cells from these fetuses have been growing in labs ever since, as the WI-38 and MRC-5 cell lines. They are still used to grow vaccine viruses today. As of March 2017, at least 300 million vaccines have been given that were made using the WI-38 line alone.
Vaccines that have been or are made using cell lines derived from fetal tissue include:
One historical cell line used in rubella vaccines was obtained from a fetus aborted due to infection with rubella. Rubella during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage (spontaneous abortion), and if it does not, there is a risk of severe disability due to congenital rubella syndrome. By one estimate, rubella vaccination may prevent up to 5,000 miscarriages per year in the United States.
Several of the vaccines in use or advanced development for COVID-19 use the cell lines HEK-293 or PER.C6 for production. In other cases, notably the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, HEK-293 was used during the testing phase.
Position of the Catholic ChurchEdit
The Catholic Church is opposed to abortion. Nevertheless, the Pontifical Academy for Life, concluded in 2005 that parents may allow their children to receive vaccines made from fetal tissue if no alternative exists and there is a grave health risk. Consumers were urged to "oppose by all means (in writing, through the various associations, mass media, etc.) the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared, which are not connected with the abortion of a human foetus". This Academy also called for the development of new vaccines that can be made by other means.
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