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Johnson & Johnson’s new COVID-19 vaccine may offer the best prospect to protect as many Americans as possible, as quickly as possible, but some U.S. religious leaders say they have moral concerns about its development.
Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna variants, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was produced in part through the use of cell lines derived from an aborted human fetus. In a statement released this week, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the vaccine’s feature raises questions about its legality.
“If one has the capacity to choose a vaccine, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should be chosen over those of Johnson & Johnson,” said Archbishop of Kansas City Joseph F. Naumann and Bishop of Fort Wayne- South Bend, Indiana Kevin C. Rhoades. Naumann chairs the USCCB committee on pro-life activities and Rhoades chairs the conference committee on doctrine.
The bishops stop long before telling American Catholics to completely avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a position also taken by other religious leaders known for their strong opposition to abortion.
“We should oppose allowing or funding research rooted in the taking of innocent human lives,” said Russell Moore, chair of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Freedom Commission.
“That doesn’t mean, however,” Moore tells NPR, “that people should avoid life-saving medical treatments because they were discovered in ways we won’t necessarily endorse.”
In practice, Americans able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 generally do not have a choice of which variant they receive. Vaccination centers can usually only offer vaccines to which they have access. Under these circumstances, the advice of religious leaders that people should feel free to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if alternatives are not available may be the most important part of their advice.
In their statement on the advisability of the various COVID-19 vaccines, the American bishops cite a judgment from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“When ethically flawless COVID-19 vaccines are not available,” the Vatican office said, “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and development process. production.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed with the use of PER.C6, a fetal cell line from an 18-week-old fetus that was aborted in 1985. According to a June 2020 article in Scientific magazine, human fetal cells can be used as miniature “factories” to generate large amounts of adenovirus … which are used as vehicles to transport genes for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 “.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also use human fetal cells, but only when testing the vaccine for efficacy, which makes them acceptable, according to a long statement from the US bishops released in December 2020.
“Although neither of the two vaccines is completely free of any link to morally compromised cell lines,” say the bishops, “in this case, the link is far removed from the initial evil of abortion.”
An American Catholic leader, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, said he opposes the use of any COVID-19 vaccine that has anything to do with aborted human fetuses, however distant they may be, but his extreme stance on the issue is an exception among Catholic leaders. Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict both received COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they were available.
In their statement on ethical considerations around the use of COVID-19 vaccines, the American bishops said that a vaccination “should be understood as an act of charity to other members of our community. In this way, to be safely vaccinated against COVID-19. should be seen as an act of love towards our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good. “
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has just become available in the United States, and Catholic hospitals and other Church-affiliated health facilities are still grappling with the implications of advice from bishops to avoid the vaccine if possible.
At least one Catholic hospital has already faced this challenge. Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., Received 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week and plans to administer them as soon as possible, despite its link to fetal cell lines.
“It’s a safe vaccine,” says Reverend Kirtley Yearwood, the hospital’s chef de mission. “He has a wonderful track record when it comes to the ability to prevent serious illness and hospitalization. These are very distant cell lines. It’s not a major concern when you have the biggest problem of saving lives. “