SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - The Diocese of Springfield sided with other Catholic leaders in asking members to avoid using the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to moral questions raised about the use of fetal cell lines in its production.
WAND News reached out to the diocese about its opinion on the issue and was referred to a statement from the Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. The statement, posted on the USCCB website, said the following:
“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.
“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.’ However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.
“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.”
The Verify team with NBC affiliate KSDK spoke with multiple experts about the usage of fetal cell lines. The station's sources included Dr. Amesh Adalja from the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. William Moss, the executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center, and Dr. Alex Lacasse, an infectious disease physician with SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital.
The history of fetal cell lines involved in COVID-19 vaccines dates to two aborted fetuses in 1973 and 1985. Moss said a Netherlands researcher obtained the cells, and the original cells have since multiplied millions of times, creating the lines.
The lines are used for testing because they rapidly replicate outside of the human body, the experts told KSDK. The mRNA based vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna used the cell lines for testing to prove they worked, while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine used an adenovirus (benign common cold virus) to bring genetic instructions for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into the body.
In each of the vaccines, once the protein is introduced, the body then creates it and reacts to its presence, leading to the creation of antibodies. Those antibodies prepare the immune system to react to the real virus and lower the risk of a person becoming infected from COVID-19.
The adenovirus used in the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has to be grown with cells, and the experts confirmed fetal line cells are used. But when the time comes for the adenovirus to go into a vaccine vial, Adalja said cells from fetal cell lines are rigorously filtered out.
"Once the virus particles are made from those cells, there are processes of filtration to try and purify what's going to be in the vial, so it's unlikely that there are going to be any cell remnants that passed through that filtering process, that purification process," Adalja told KSDK.
Fetal cell lines are used to create and develop the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but they were also used in the vaccines for hepatitis A, rubella, chickenpox and shingles, according to Lacasse.