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Vaccines and Abortion

Some of today’s most common vaccines were derived from aborted fetal cells.

Vaccines and Abortion: Some of today’s most common vaccines were derived from aborted fetal cells.

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The human diploid cells used to create some of the most common vaccines in the world were originally derived from aborted human beings. That creates an ethical dilemma for those who must explain why these fetuses are human enough to provide the human cells necessary for such cultivation, but not human enough to be protected under the law.

According to the National Network for Immunization Information (NNII), there are certain viral vaccines that cannot be produced apart from the use of living cells.1 The bacteria used for bacterial vaccines can be grown in laboratory cultures. Not so for viruses. And because there are risks and limitations associated with using animal cells to develop human vaccines, many scientists prefer cells derived from human organs. But where do these cells come from?

Human diploid cells, as they're called, can be sustained and grown in the laboratory indefinitely, but each cell strain must be originally derived from a human organ. For many of the vaccines in use today, those original organs came from aborted human fetuses. Quoting from the NNII website:

Two different strains of human diploid cell cultures made from fetuses have been used extensively for vaccine production for decades. One was developed in the United States in 1961 (called WI-38) and the other in the United Kingdom in 1966 (called MRC-5).

WI-38 came from lung cells from a female fetus of 3-months gestation and MRC-5 was developed from lung cells from a 14-week-old male fetus. Both fetuses were intentionally aborted, but neither was aborted for the purpose of obtaining diploid cells. The fetal tissues that eventually became WI-38 and the MRC-5 cell cultures were removed from fetuses that were dead. The cellular biologists who made the cell cultures did not induce the abortions.2

As indicated in the paragraphs above, the purpose of the NNII page titled, "Human Fetal Links with Some Vaccines," is to explain why they believe the use of these vaccines is ethically sound. Much more significant is the frank admission that vaccines produced through fetal remains are being "extensively" used and have been for decades. The fact that "hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines" have been produced through abortion-derived cell lines3 is only an ethical problem if abortion is an ethical problem. If abortion is a morally-neutral procedure, then why shouldn't we use aborted fetal remains to create as many vaccines as we can—assuming the vaccines that result are truly safe and effective?

Listening to the almost apologetic language of the NNII explanation, it becomes quite apparent that there is an ethical problem with abortion. They place great moral emphasis on the fact that these tiny human beings were not aborted for the express purpose of harvesting their cells. But why should that matter, unless there's something wrong with abortion? Why would the use of aborted fetuses be any more or less offensive if it was done for the express purpose of creating these vaccines? They point out that the "cellular biologists who made the cell cultures did not induce the abortions." Again, why should that matter, unless they're trying to distance themselves from the act of abortion? And if there's nothing wrong with abortion, why bother making such distinctions? Why summarize their ethical defense with the argument that, "additional abortions are not needed for the production of these vaccines."?4 Why point out that the use of the rubella vaccine prevents abortions, if there's nothing wrong with abortion in the first place? And why reference a statement from the Vatican declaring that, in the absence of an alternative, these vaccines may still be used in good conscience?5

Are they simply trying to appease those who are ideologically opposed to abortion? Perhaps, but it's far more likely that they feel the weight of this ethical compromise as much as anyone. Specifically, they've already argued that the reason these cell lines are so important is because animal cells aren't as safe and reliable. Nor are synthetics. Only human cells provide an optimal environment for growing the viruses necessary to produce these vaccines. And where is the only place human cells come from? From human beings. The only way abortion can be an ethically-indifferent procedure is if it doesn't kill an innocent human being, but the only way that fetal remains can be an ideal vehicle for vaccine creation is if they come from a living human being. And there's the rub. If human fetuses aren't human beings, of course there's nothing wrong with abortion. But if human fetuses aren't human beings, then they wouldn't have been so well suited for the creation of these kinds of vaccinations in the first place. You can't have it both ways, without severely twisting the definition of "human being."

Even though anti-abortion entities like the Roman Catholic Church—through their Pontifical Academy for Life—and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)—through their Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission—have ostensibly signed off on the use of these vaccines, we must give due weight to their qualifications and disclaimers. The SBC frankly admits that these vaccines are “morally tainted.”6 The Catholic Church has decried their “illicit origin.”Neither disputes the purported safety and effectiveness of these vaccines, but both have urged that they not be blithely accepted. In the words of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission:

Clearly, the process by which these vaccines are made is not ethically ideal. Therefore, we should continue to advocate for use of alternatives when available and for the development of future vaccines to be carried out by other means.8

The National Catholic Bioethics Center says something very similar:

The duty remains for everyone to manifest disagreement with the use of biological material of illicit origin for the preparation of vaccines and to ask health care systems to make other types of vaccines available.9

The SBC justifies the use of vaccines derived from aborted human beings by arguing that using them does not increase the number of abortions, nor does it make the user an active agent in the abortion itself. Using a vaccine derived from an abortion victim, they argue, is morally akin to using an organ derived from a murder victim. The difficulty with this assertion is that it undercuts their earlier claim. Why bother advocating for alternatives at all if the current iterations are morally acceptable? And doesn’t a general willingness to use “morally tainted” vaccines remove the incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop uncompromised alternatives? The Catholic Church certainly thinks so—or at least they did. The Pontifical Academy for Life wrote in 2005:

The use of vaccines whose production is connected with procured abortion constitutes at least a mediate remote passive material cooperation to the abortion, and an immediate passive material cooperation with regard to their marketing. Furthermore, on a cultural level, the use of such vaccines contributes in the creation of a generalized social consensus to the operation of the pharmaceutical industries which produce them in an immoral way.10

Their final endorsement of these vaccines was qualified in the following terms:

As regards the diseases against which there are no alternative vaccines which are available and ethically acceptable, it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health. However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis. The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is grave inconvenience.11

For the next decade, those who sought to follow pontifical protocol had to wrestle with whether or not refusing to administer morally-tainted vaccines constituted a “grave inconvenience”—as defined by the middle caveat of the statement above. Specifically, does refusing to administer morally-tainted vaccines cause children, and the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health? That is an exceedingly difficult question, which actually became more complicated when the Catholic Church apparently capitulated to political expedience.

In 2017—after Pope Francis shuffled the makeup of the Pontifical Academy for Life—they issued a “clarification” on vaccines, which nearly amounts to a full reversal. When it was translated to English in 2019, the new guidelines read as such:

In the past, vaccines had been prepared using cells from aborted human fetuses, however currently used cell lines are very distant from the original abortions... It should be noted that today it is no longer necessary to obtain cells from new voluntary abortions, and that the cell lines on which the vaccines are based in are derived solely from two fetuses originally aborted in the 1960’s. From the clinical point of view, it should also be reiterated that treatment with vaccines, despite the very rare side effects, is safe and effective.12

There is no mention of seeking out alternatives and no call to petition manufacturers to develop new vaccines that aren’t derived from aborted fetal cells. Instead, they refute their earlier claim that the use of such vaccines amounts to a “passive material cooperation” with abortion by asserting four things:

Even if these claims are true, they’re no more true today than they were in 2005, unless you argue that there is a qualitative moral difference between a lapse of 40+ years and a lapse of 50+ years. The only substantive thing to have changed in the last decade is the stated position of the Catholic Church—along with the public revelation that 76 aborted fetuses were used during the “preparatory” phase of developing cell lines WI-38 and MRC-5.13 The Pontifical Academy for Life’s updated guidelines simply accept the entirely speculative claim that 95% coverage is necessary to maintain herd immunity,14 and argue that all people have a “moral responsibility” to receive “all clinically recommended vaccinations.”15 That’s a far cry from the recalcitrant language of the 2005 statement, particularly in light of ever-expanding vaccine schedules.

In the United States, there is some debate as to how many doses the current vaccination schedule16 includes—owing to the existence of combination vaccines like the abortion-derived MMR which inoculates against measles, mumps, and rubella. One MMR injection delivers three antigens. So, is that three doses or one? If you count it as a single dose—based on the volume of the injection, then the current vaccination schedule mandates 53 doses. If you count each combination vaccine separately—based on the individual risks of each antigen, the total jumps to 69. Either way, there’s no denying that the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule has expanded dramatically from a generation ago,17 in conjunction with an underlying change in ideology.

Whereas vaccines were traditionally used to inoculate against only the most-serious infectious diseases, it’s now standard procedure to inoculate against minor threats as well—like chicken pox and the flu. In America today, children are slated to receive 51 injections by the time they turn 18 (two doses are administered orally). They’ll get up to 27 of those shots before they turn two—and up to six in a single visit. By contrast, kids who grew up in the 80’s would have only received five shots during their first two years.18 Overall, today’s children will receive approximately seven injections for every one injection that their parents received. Whether or not today’s kids are healthier as a result is much less certain. While individual vaccines go through an extensive vetting process, the entire vaccination schedule has never been collectively tested.19

Politicians have insisted that “there are no fetal cells in vaccines,”20 but this is a misleading assertion at best. Lung cells from the two babies who were aborted in the 1960’s were used to create continuously living and replicating cell lines which are still in use. And according to the product inserts themselves—and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,21 “residual components of [fetal] cells including DNA and protein” can and do make their way into these vaccines.22 That means that actual DNA fragments from babies who were aborted a half-century ago are making their way into the liquid that is being injected into the bodies of our children. Some claim that foreign DNA fragments are no big deal, but they generally ignore the distinction between ingesting foreign DNA, which can be eliminated—and injecting foreign DNA, which can be spontaneously integrated into native cells. What are the potential health risks of having foreign DNA fragments assimilated into your own? They are myriad, including “autoimmune reactions” and “genomic insertions and mutations.”23

An additional layer of protection against the potential side effects of vaccine injections was lost in 2011 when the Supreme Court ruled in Bruesewitz v Wyeth24 that vaccine manufacturers “cannot be held liable for (the) negative side effects” of their products,25 lest the cost of litigation cause them to completely abandon the marketplace. Prior to this ruling, pharmaceutical companies had already paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to patients who were found to have been harmed by vaccines, and there was some concern that manufacturers might stop producing them altogether.26 According to Justice Sonia Sotomayor—who wrote the dissenting opinion—the 2011 ruling created "a regulatory vacuum” and destroyed the balance “between compensating vaccine-injured children and stabilizing the childhood vaccine market.”27

Where does all this leave us? As in anything, we must refrain from simply accepting the word of the establishment—without vetting it first. It would behoove all parents to do some research. Read the fine print. Consider both sides of the argument. Weigh your options—and understand that pharmaceutical companies don’t necessarily have your child’s best interest at heart. Don’t just assume that they’re driven by principles rather than profit. Vaccines are a multi-billion dollar industry, and the companies which produce them have massive political and cultural clout. Don’t simply take the CDC’s word as gospel—nor any organization which believes abortion to be an ethically-justified practice. They’re not reliable arbiters of sound medicine. Sound Choice Medical publishes a list of abortion-tainted vaccines and—where possible—lists alternatives.28 Start there, and start digging.

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  1. National Network for Immunization Information. "Human Fetal Links with Some Vaccines: Manufacturing Viral Vaccines," http://www.immunizationinfo.org/issues/vaccine-components/human-fetal-links-some-vaccines (Jun 3, 2008)
  2. National Network for Immunization Information. "Human Fetal Links with Some Vaccines: Human Fetal Diploid Cells," http://www.immunizationinfo.org/issues/vaccine-components/human-fetal-links-some-vaccines (Jun 3, 2008)
  3. Ibid.
  4. National Network for Immunization Information. "Human Fetal Links with Some Vaccines: Summary," http://www.immunizationinfo.org/issues/vaccine-components/human-fetal-links-some-vaccines (Jun 3, 2008)
  5. Ibid.
  6. Joe Carter & Justin Smith. "Explainer: Vaccines and aborted human fetal tissue," The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (Feb 5, 2015), https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/explainer-vaccines-and-aborted-human-fetal-tissue
  7. The National Catholic Bioethics Center. "New Charter for Health Care Workers," (Translation © 2017), 53. https://www.ncbcenter.org/resources/news/new-charter-health-care-workers-online/
  8. Joe Carter & Justin Smith. "Explainer: Vaccines and aborted human fetal tissue," The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (Feb 5, 2015), https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/explainer-vaccines-and-aborted-human-fetal-tissue
  9. The National Catholic Bioethics Center. "New Charter for Health Care Workers," (Translation © 2017), 53. https://www.ncbcenter.org/resources/news/new-charter-health-care-workers-online/
  10. Pontifical Academy for Life. "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Fetuses," (Autumn 2006), 547, https://www.ncbcenter.org/files/9815/0653/5466/ Moral_Reflections_on_Vaccines_Prepared_from_Cells _Derived_from_Aborted_Human_Fetuses.pdf
  11. Ibid, 548.
  12. Pontifical Academy for Life. “Note on Italian vaccine issue," (July 31, 2017), http://www.academyforlife.va/content/pav/en/the-academy/activity-academy/note-vaccini.html
  13. Stanley Plotkin, 2018 expert witness deposition, January 11, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN7FQCkiBp8&feature=youtu.be
  14. “Herd immunity" is a theoretical construct based on mathematic predictions and computer simulations. It cannot be objectively measured or precisely determined. It may not exist at all. The source of the near ubiquitous claim that the herd-immunity threshold is 95% appears to be a 1983 paper by the mathematician Herbert W. Hethcote. The paper focuses exclusively on measles and rubella and freely admits that “herd immunity is actually more complicated” than the models will allow. Since the paper was published, numerous measles outbreaks in communities that surpassed the 95% threshold demonstrate that this number has little real-world value. Authors Poland and Jacobson, with the Mayo Vaccine Research Group, studied measles outbreaks in “very highly immunized school populations” and found that “after more than 95% of schoolchildren are immunized against measles, the majority of measles cases occur in appropriately immunized children.” When they revisited their work in 2012, they reported that “surprising numbers of [measles outbreaks in the U.S.] occurr[ed] in persons who previously received one or even two documented doses of measles-containing vaccine.” They conclude that as “measles immunization rates rise to high levels in a population, measles becomes a disease of immunized persons—because of the failure rate of the vaccine and the unique transmissibility of the measles virus.” Bona fide immunity, which is life-long resistance to a certain disease, cannot be obtained through vaccinations. Vaccines are never 100% effective, and everyone responds to them differently. Some respond poorly. These poor responders will remain a threat to the population at large, whether they’re vaccinated or not. Poland writes: “nonresponders to a single dose of measles vaccine who demonstrated an antibody response only after a second immunization were still six times more likely than were responders to a single dose of measles vaccine to develop measles on exposure to wild virus.” Authors Hefferman and Keeling predict that since “immunity wanes over time and is subsequently enhanced (boosted) by asymptomatic encounters with the infection,” the artificial suppression of infection through vaccines will lead to “far larger epidemics than that predicted by standard models.” Most people naturally develop immunities over the course of their lives, but the vaccine-induced immunities we now rely on may actually be rendering us less immune overall. And even if 100% of the population were vaccinated, only a small percentage would maintain true immunity past 10 years.
  15. Pontifical Academy for Life. “Note on Italian vaccine issue," (July 31, 2017), http://www.academyforlife.va/content/pav/en/the-academy/activity-academy/note-vaccini.html
  16. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule for ages 18 years or younger, United States, 2019." https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/0-18yrs-child-combined-schedule.pdf
  17. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Vaccine History: Developments by Year." (Dec 18, 2019), https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-history/developments-by-year
  18. Ibid.
  19. The National Vaccine Program Office (NVPO) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to convene a committee of experts in pediatrics, neurology, medical ethics, immunology, statistics, epidemiology, and public health to identify feasible study designs to explore the safety of the U.S. childhood immunization schedule. The 14-member committee concluded that “existing research has not been designed to test the entire immunization schedule.” The Childhood Immunization Schedule and Safety: Stakeholder Concerns, Scientific Evidence, and Future Studies. (2013) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK206938/
  20. California state senator Richard Pan speaking to California senate judiciary committee. https://youtu.be/BpL9Ehh88sI (June 20, 2019)
  21. Paul Offit, MD. "Are Fetal Cells Used to Make Vaccines?" The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. (Aug 11, 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lMBzHLB704&feature=youtu.be
  22. Varivax [Varicella Virus Vaccine Live (Oka/Merck)], "Description" Merck & Co., Inc. https://www.merck.com/product/usa/ pi_circulars/v/varivax_iii/varivax_iii_pi.pdf (The product insert for Havrix (Hepatitis A Vaccine) makes the same admission in the description on page 9: https://www.fda.gov/media/119388/download)
  23. Theresa A. Deisher, "Impact of environmental factors on the prevalence of autistic disorder after 1979." Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology, Vol 6(9), 271-286 (September 2014), https://academicjournals.org/article /article1411048618_Deisher%20et%20al.pdf
  24. Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC, 562 U.S. 223 (February 22, 2011), https://www.oyez.org/cases/2010/09-152
  25. Meredith Melnick, "Bruesewitz v. Wyeth: What the Supreme Court Decision Means for Vaccines," Time USA, LLC (Feb 24, 2011), http://healthland.time.com/2011/02/24/bruesewitz-v-wyeth-what-the-supreme-court-decision-means-for-vaccines/
  26. Robert Barnes, "Supreme Court rules vaccine makers protected from lawsuits." The Washington Post (Feb 22, 2011), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court-rules-vaccine-makers-protected-from-lawsuits/2011/02/22/ABUqUZQ_story.html
  27. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, "Dissent" Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC, 562 U.S. 223 (February 22, 2011), https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/562/223/#tab-opinion-1963421
  28. USA & Canada - Aborted Fetal Cell Line Products and Ethical Alternatives (Feb 2018) http://mv3462p2bnv2ptxqp33ikj2j-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/vaccineListOrigFormat-1.pdf

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