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Bishops urge Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if possible because it was developed using cells from an aborted fetus

INSIDER logo INSIDER 3/3/2021 jgerstein@businessinsider.com (Julie Gerstein)
A researcher with a box containing vials of human embryonic stem-cell cultures from the freezer at the Burnham Institute in 2004 in La Jolla, California. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images © Provided by INSIDER A researcher with a box containing vials of human embryonic stem-cell cultures from the freezer at the Burnham Institute in 2004 in La Jolla, California. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
  • US Catholic bishops are asking people to seek vaccines other than Johnson & Johnson's if possible.
  • J&J's COVID-19 vaccine was developed using human fetal tissue replicated from aborted stem cells.
  • Pope Francis previously said vaccines derived from aborted cells could be "morally acceptable."
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is speaking out against the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine because it was developed using cells from an aborted fetus.

"Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production," a statement from the conference said.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was "developed, tested, and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns," it continued.

The conference said that if there's a choice, people should take the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines instead, referring back to its January recommendations that people opt for a vaccine with "the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines."

If a person has no choice of vaccine, however, the conference said in that January guidance that it was morally permissible to accept any available coronavirus vaccine "given that the COVID-19 virus can involve serious health risks."

The new statement followed an announcement from the Archdiocese of New Orleans on Friday that described the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as "morally compromised, as it uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine as well as the testing."

Insider has reached out to Johnson & Johnson for comment.


Video: Verify: Yes, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine uses aborted fetal cell lines (WFAA-TV Dallas-Ft. Worth)

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The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the weekend for emergency use. As the first single-dose coronavirus vaccine to be authorized in the US, it could help Americans reach herd immunity - the level of resistance to COVID-19 needed to keep the coronavirus from spreading - more quickly.

Pope Francis has yet to specifically address the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but the Vatican previously said it could be "morally acceptable" to take vaccines "that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process."

In a statement released in December, the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that while it encouraged pharmaceutical researchers to create vaccines without employing the use of fetuses, it also advised that Catholics would not violate the church's beliefs if they used vaccines created using aborted cells.

"The certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in the production of the vaccines derive," the statement said, noting that using the vaccines should "not in itself constitute a legitimation, even indirect, of the practice of abortion, and necessarily assumes the opposition to this practice by those who make use of these vaccines."

The cells used in the development of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine derive from a fetus aborted in the early 1970s and have been replicated numerous times across various scientific firms and pharmaceutical companies.

Debate over the use of fetal stem cells has raged for decades, with anti-abortion advocates arguing that supporting companies that do such research amounts to tacit approval of abortion.

The US government regularly funds research employing fetal tissue. In 2014, for instance, the National Institutes of Health doled out about $76 million in support of projects using fetal cells, according to Scientific American.

President Donald Trump restricted the use of aborted fetal tissue in research during his term, even though Regeneron, the antibody therapy he touted as a "cure" for COVID-19, was tested using fetal cells. The scientific community has released a letter to President Joe Biden calling on him to roll back Trump's restrictions to allow for increased fetal tissue use.

"We are confident that an independent and rigorous evaluation of the scientific and ethical merits of HFT [human fetal tissue] research would find that it will continue to advance scientific research and contribute to the development of new treatments," the letter said.

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