The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) clarified on March 11 regarding an earlier notice they sent to Catholics, recommending the choice of alternatives over the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines due to their use of “abortion-derived cell lines in their development, production, and confirmatory testing.”
“This Note was published in response to questions from Catholics who were concerned about the moral permissibility of receiving currently-approved COVID-19 vaccines,” wrote the national assembly of the bishops, in their clarification of a notice (pdf) they sent on Tuesday. “The Note did not refer to, nor intend to question the medical efficacy of any vaccine.”
“Catholics are invited to be vaccinated, both in keeping with the dictates of their conscience and in contributing to the common good by promoting the health and safety of others,” the clarification read.
The CCCB said that they were merely restating the position outlined by the Holy See on the use of COVID-19 vaccines back in December 2020. The Holy See is the sovereign entity governing the Catholic Church, which officially recognized the CCCB in 1948 after it was founded in 1943.
The Holy See has stated that in situations where cells from aborted fetuses are used to create cell lines for use in scientific research, “’there exist differing degrees of responsibility’ of cooperation in evil.” It cited the example of organizations who decided to use cell lines of illicit origin versus those who didn’t have a voice in making the decision.
The Holy See said 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,” a guidance that was echoed by the CCCB in their earlier notice.
In the notice, the CCCB told Catholics that the approved Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, though they had used unethically-derived cell lines in some of their final testing processes, they did not use the abortion-derived cell lines in their development and production, and so it is deemed as morally acceptable to receive the vaccines “since the connection to abortion is extremely remote.”
But for AstraZeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines, the CCCB argued that the two organizations had used the abortion-derived cell lines during the stages of development, production, and testing.
If given a choice, the CCCB recommended Catholics choose the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine over the ones from AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson.
In a statement to the CBC, AstraZeneca spokesperson Carlo Mastrangelo said the COVID-19 vaccine is produced using a biological manufacturing process that utilizes a common human cell, HEK293, which the Oxford University has chosen due to its ease of use, growth, and maintenance.
“The cell line was originally derived from fetal human embryonic kidney cells from 1973 and has been maintained in cell banks across the world ever since to help researchers develop new medical treatments,” Mastrangelo said.
“HEK293 cell lines are grown in a laboratory, generating copies from the original cells, and are not the same as fetal tissue. Several current human cell lines are thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue. No additional fetal tissue has been added to the cell line since its creation.”
He added that only if developers are “in full compliance with ethical guidelines” can the human-derived cell lines be used.
In their clarification on Thursday, the CCCB said Catholics may receive all the COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada.
“Since there is currently no choice of vaccine being offered, Catholics in good conscience, may receive the vaccine that is available and offered to them,” the clarification read.
But “the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with abortion,” the notice on Tuesday concluded.