New vaccines prompt some serious questions

A researcher works in a lab run by Moderna Inc., who announced Nov. 16, 2020, that its experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19. (CNS photo/Moderna Inc. via Reuters) Editor's note: One time use only. No archives.

By NZ CATHOLIC staff

One of the two Covid-19 vaccines the New Zealand Government has agreed to purchase is produced with the use of a cell line originating from aborted tissue, but Church authorities say it is acceptable to use such a vaccine when there is no alternative and there is a serious risk to health.

The question of the moral status of vaccines was raised by Ken Orr of Right to Life in an Official Information Act request to the Minister of Health.

The response came from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which said the Government’s vaccine strategy offers a commitment to deliver Covid-19 vaccines which are safe, effective, and in sufficient quantities.

The ministry said the Government had signed an agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech to purchase 1.5 million doses of their BNT162 vaccine. Subject to regulatory approval and authorisation by Medsafe for use in New Zealand, this two-dose regime would provide 750,000 people with a vaccine developed without the use of aborted foetal cell lines.

BNT162 is an mRNA vaccine, the ministry added, and vaccines using this technology do not require the use of cell lines (human or otherwise) for their manufacture.

The Government has also announced an in-principle agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica for up to five million doses of its Ad26.COV2.S vaccine. This vaccine was developed with the use of the PER.C6 cell line, a cell line originating from aborted tissue that has been used in vaccine and therapeutic development since the 1980s.

Janssen’s vaccine would also have to gain Medsafe approval before being used in New Zealand.

The ministry would not give any further information about the potential purchases of COVID-19 vaccines but noted that developers of these vaccines have been transparent about the use of morally compromised cell lines.

Meanwhile, the chairs of the United States Bishops’ doctrine and pro-life committees have issued a memo on the “moral permissibility” of using the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

Bishop Kevin J. Rhoades and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann have correctly noted that while neither of these vaccines use cell lines originating from foetal tissue in their production, they are not completely free from any connection to abortion as researchers used a morally compromised cell line for one of the confirmatory tests of their products.

“There is thus a connection, but it is relatively remote,” the bishops said. “Some are asserting that if a vaccine is connected in any way with tainted cell lines, then it is immoral to be vaccinated with them. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Catholic moral teaching.”

Citing three Vatican documents on the question of morally compromised vaccines, they said: “These documents all point to the immorality of using tissue taken from an aborted child for creating cell lines.

“They also make distinctions in terms of the moral responsibility of the various actors involved, from those involved in designing and producing a vaccine to those receiving the vaccine.

“Most importantly,” they added, “they all make it clear that, at the level of the recipient, it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there are no alternatives and there is a serious risk to health.”

One of the Vatican documents cited, from the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2005, says Catholics have a responsibility to push for the creation of morally just, alternative vaccines, but it also notes they should not sacrifice the common good of public health in situations where there is no substitute.

Director of the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre, Dr John Kleinsman, noted that the 2005 Academy for Life document gives moral priority to the “necessity” of protecting the well-being and health of others in extreme situations.

“While we must always advocate for and choose vaccines that don’t rely on foetal cell lines where possible, avoiding the use of morally compromised vaccines does not take precedence over the health conditions of a population. The 2005 Academy for Life Statement clearly states that it is right to avoid vaccination only when it can be done without causing significant health risks to others. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we now find ourselves in an extreme situation because of the deadly nature of the COVID-19 virus for some and the long-term debilitating consequences for many others, not to mention the severe economic consequences arising from the pandemic.”

Dr Kleinsman added: “For me, this means that even if they are not mandatory, I don’t think it is right to avoid Covid-19 vaccinations in the current situation. Which is why I would argue that the most faithful interpretation of Catholic moral teaching is that it is not just ‘permissible’ to be vaccinated against Covid-19, but that there is a strong moral obligation on us to do so in order to protect others.”

In September, Sanofi Pasteur, the world’s largest biotech company devoted entirely to vaccines, decided to cease using an aborted foetal cell line in producing its polio vaccines. The company said it was developing a Covid-19 vaccine from “cell lines not connected to unethical procedures and methods”.

 

 

 

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