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The new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may provide the best prospects for protecting as many Americans as possible as soon as possible, but some U.S. faith leaders say they have moral concerns about its development.
In contrast to the Pfizer or Moderna variants, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was partially produced using cell lines derived from an aborted human fetus. In a statement released this week, leaders of the American Catholic Bishops’ Conference said the vaccine’s features raise questions about its authorization.
“If one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Modern’s vaccines should be preferred to Johnson & Johnsons,” said Kansas City Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Fort Wayne-South Bend (Indiana) Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. Naumann chairs the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Rhoades chairs the Conference Committee on Doctrine.
The bishops very much stop asking American Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine altogether, an attitude also taken by other faith leaders known for their strong opposition to abortion.
“We should oppose the endorsement or funding of research rooted in taking innocent human lives,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“However, that does not mean,” Moore tells NPR, “that people should avoid life-saving medical treatments because they were discovered in a way that we would not necessarily approve.”
In practice, Americans who are able to get a COVID-19 vaccination generally have no choice about which variant they receive. Vaccination centers are generally only able to offer the vaccines to which they have access. Given these circumstances, the faith leaders’ advice that people are free to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if there are no alternatives may be the most important part of their advice.
In their declaration of advisability for the various COVID-19 vaccines, the American bishops cite a judgment from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
“When ethically irreproachable 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 production process.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed using PER.C6, a fetal cell line derived from an 18-week-old fetus that was aborted in 1985. According to a June 2020 article in Science Magazine, human fetal cells can be used as “miniature factories” to generate large amounts of adenovirus … used as carriers to generate genes from the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. “
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also use human fetal cells, but only during vaccine efficacy testing, making them acceptable, according to a lengthy statement issued by U.S. bishops in December 2020.
“Although none of the vaccines are completely free of any connection to morally compromised cell lines,” the bishops say, “in this case the connection is very far from the original evil of abortion.”
An American Catholic leader, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, has said he opposes the use of any COVID-19 vaccine in connection with aborted human fetuses, no matter how distant, but his extreme stance on the subject is an exception. among Catholics. leaders. Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict both received COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they were available.
In their statement on ethical considerations regarding the use of COVID-19 vaccines, the American bishops said that a vaccination “should be understood as an act of charity towards the other members of our society. In this way, they are vaccinated safely against COVID -19 should be seen as an act of love for 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-related health institutions are still struggling with the consequences of bishops’ advice to avoid the vaccine, if possible.
At least one Catholic hospital has already faced that 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 connection to fetal cell lines.
“It’s a safe vaccine,” said Rev. Kirtley Yearwood, the hospital’s chief of staff. “It has a wonderful record in terms of being able to prevent serious illness and hospitalization. It’s very distant cell lines. It’s not a primary problem when you have the bigger issue of saving lives.”