FILE - This September 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine developed by the company. (Cheryl Gerber/Courtesy of Johnson & Johnson via AP, File)

Some US bishops discourage Catholics from getting J&J vaccine

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is raising moral concerns over the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because it’s produced using a cell line derived from an aborted fetus.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is labeling the newest vaccine “morally compromised,” and recommends Catholics not choose the Johnson and Johnson vaccine if they have a choice. They say Catholics who have the ability to choose a vaccine should choose Pfizer or Moderna over Johnson and Johnson.

But molecular medicine expert Dr. Michael Teng with USF Health says it isn’t that simple.

“Derivatives of that cell line were also used in the trials for the Pfizer, Moderna vaccines in order to detect antibodies, things like that. So these cells are pretty widespread.”

Teng says no abortions were performed to make the vaccine, so when it comes to valuing life, his advice? Consider the greater good.

“That life, of course, extends to the elderly who are very susceptible to the virus. To people with underlying medical conditions who are very susceptible to death. There is a moral option to preserve life at all stages and not just the state of an unborn fetus 50 years ago.”

Dr. Amesh Adalja called it “mindboggling.”

“I don’t want to see Catholics die because they don’t take this vaccine because they’re listening to their priests or their bishops or the Pope. This is just as absurd as listening to a real estate developer to get medical advice,” said Adalja, an infectious disease specialist with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

“They run the risk of doing a lot of damage if they undermine people’s confidence or willingness to take the Johnson and Johnson vaccine,” Adalja said.

While not disputing the church officials’ contention that an abortion-derived cell line is used in the production, Johnson and Johnson issued a statement Tuesday stressing that there is no fetal tissue in its vaccine.

Adalja says the fetal cell line did originate from an aborted fetus.

“And that cell line has been propagated or continued and it’s used for not just this COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson and Johnson, but also rubella vaccine, shingles vaccine, chickenpox vaccine, hepatitis A vaccines. They are an important part of our medical technology,” Adalja said.

Johnson and Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is made using a harmless cold virus, called an adenovirus, the same technology used to produce a successful Ebola vaccine. The adenovirus is grown using what’s called an immortalized cell line, and the virus then is pulled out and purified.

Several types of cell lines created decades ago using fetal tissue exist and are widely used in medical manufacturing but the cells in them today are clones of the early cells, not the original tissue.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a January statement that “abortion-derived” cell lines were used to test the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines but not in their development or production.

The Archdiocese statements renewed religious discussions about the vaccine and the use of abortion-derived cells. In December, the Vatican said that “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses” in the research and production process when “ethically irreproachable” vaccines aren’t available to the public.

Pope Francis has frequently spoken about the need to ensure that vaccines are widely available, especially to the poor and marginalized. And, last month, a decree signed by the governor of the Vatican city-state said that Vatican employees who opt out of vaccination without a proven medical reason could be subject to sanctions, including being fired.

“Given that the COVID-19 virus can involve serious health risks, it can be morally acceptable to receive a vaccine that uses abortion-derived cell lines if no other available vaccines comparable in safety and efficacy with no connection to abortion,” January guidance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

The Vatican said Catholics who choose not to get vaccinated due to moral objections must keep the greater good in mind and do everything else possible to avoid getting the virus and putting others at risk.

Author: CBS Pittsburgh & Veronica Marshall, WINK News
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