By Paul Tuns
Two new vaccines aimed to protect people from COVID-19, from Moderna and Pzifer, have been lauded by some U.S. pro-life groups, but still pose ethical problems.
In early November, within days of each other, Moderna and Pfizer announced that they were close to getting a vaccine to market as early trials indicated a success rate of protecting 95 per cent of those who had been vaccinated.
The Moderna vaccine was created with financial assistance from the Trump administration as part of its Operation Warp Speed program to get a vaccine to market. Nearly $2.5 billion in taxpayer aid was giving to pharmaceutical giants Moderna, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson to help quickly secure tens of millions of doses for American citizens. There are more than 50 vaccines under development globally but Moderna is one of two companies closest to delivering the vaccine to the general public.
“We just announced that mRNA-1273, our COVID-19 vaccine candidate, has met its primary efficacy endpoint in the first interim analysis of the Phase 3 COVE study,” said press statement from Moderna. It expected the vaccine will be available in the Spring after larger-scale testing and approval by the Food and Drug Administration. The Trump administration has vowed to fast-track vaccine approvals, although the incoming Joe Biden is expected to give that policy a second look.
Pfifer created its vaccine with BioNTech SE and announced it was asking the FDA for permission to sell its vaccine as early as the end of November, although the Wall Street Journal reports that regulators have indicated it will take some time to review Pfizer’s findings, including reports of side-effects. Like that of Moderna, Pfizer’s vaccine was developed using genetic sequencing on computers without using fetal cells.
Traditional vaccines, such as those against measles and polio, inoculate recipients of the jab with a weak or inactive version of the virus that triggers the body to create antibodies that remain in the body to neutralize the actual virus if the patient becomes infected later in life. The mNRA technology uses a synthetic gene-based technology that mimics the coronavirus’s outer spike proteins and induces the antibody response.
The Wall Street Journal reported, “Widespread distribution of effective vaccines could help Americans’ lives return to normal if sufficient numbers of people get inoculated.” Surveys show many Americans, and fewer Canadians, are hesitant to receive the coronavirus vaccine because of concerns about its safety due to the rush to develop it. Some people are also morally opposed to some vaccines because they contain fetal cells taken from aborted babies or used fetal cells in their testing.
The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute has listed both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as “ethically uncontroversial.” It notes that neither used cells from aborted babies to manufacture the vaccine. “Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use synthetic genetic coronavirus material, called messenger RNA or mRNA,” it noted.
However, Children of God for Life (CGL), a pro-life organization specializing in monitoring vaccines, said that while no fetal cells were used in the direct manufacture of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, they did use cell lines emanating from aborted babies in creating material that is used in producing the vaccine or in their testing of the product.
CGL reports that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine used the HEK-293 aborted fetal cell line to manufacture a new cell line to manufacture its Spike S protein. HEK-293 is a cell line created from the kidneys of a healthy baby aborted in the Netherlands in 1972.
A fact sheet released by CGL reads: “Now some have argued that the patents we are citing are not for the actual vaccine and that would be partially correct, however totally inconsequential because once their technology was established, the aborted fetal cells are not used again.” They explain: “This is also true of the Spike protein produced using HEK-293 cells as well. Once the protein is built, the cells are not used again. But the protein IS used – and the mRNA IS used — and both were built on technology that extensively used aborted fetal cells.”
In a separate fact sheet, CGL also reports that the Pfizer vaccine was tested on the HEK 293 cell line.
Writing in The Public Discourse in May, Christopher Tollefsen, examined the permissibility of using HEK 293 and similar cell lines. He noted that formal cooperation with evil is always wrong, so vaccines that rely on procured abortion tissue is impermissible and “pro-lifers should demand that alternative, ethically upright forms of research be pursued.” He said that patients are cooperating directly with the evil if a vaccine is produced with such tissue because it creates the market for the illicit act. But that “material cooperation can be permissible when the reasons for acting are proportionate to the reasons against so acting.” Tollefsen argues that when it comes to whether or not researchers should use existing (aborted) fetal tissue cell lines established decades ago and whether pro-lifers can use vaccines tested or created with such lines, the material cooperation is “weak” because it is far removed from the original evil act, does not require further evil actions, and does not incentivize more abortions.
But Campaign Life Coalition says that creating or testing vaccines on fetal cell lines taken from tissue from aborted babies is always wrong. Jeff Gunnarson, national president of CLC, told The Interim, “it is fruit of the poisonous tree.” He called on governments to fund and approve only vaccines from ethically derived sources.
Children of God for Life reports that of the more than 30 vaccines in development they are monitoring, 19 do not use fetal cells or fetal cell lines in either the production or testing of the product.
Meanwhile, Vaccine Choice Canada (VCC), a national non-profit that educates consumers about vaccines in Canada, has launched a petition asking the federal government to “preserve and protect our ethical, legal, and moral right to informed consent” and “legally ensure COVID-19 vaccines are voluntary.” It notes the lack of proper testing and oversight in the rush to develop COVID-19 vaccines. VCC said that all vaccines in development at this point should be considered “experimental” and thus not foisted upon the general population. Typically in Canada and the United States, the approval process for pharmaceuticals takes five to ten years.
CLC has launched a petition in New Brunswick where the government mused about requiring vaccines for students before they would be allowed in school.