As the dreaded “curve” of COVID-19 continues to flatten across the country, citizens are at last able to look forward seriously to returning to work and resuming social interactions. Slowly but surely, quarantines are being lifted, businesses are reopening, and news sources report ever-accelerating progress on the search for a COVID-19 vaccine. For the first time in a long time, the end of this pandemic appears to be in sight!
However, before we start celebrating, Americans must remain cautious and attentive to unfolding updates on vaccine development. According to the National Catholic Register, the five leading coronavirus vaccine candidates, including front-runners by Moderna Therapeutics, Johnson & Johnson and Oxford University, are being produced with cells of aborted babies. The research of Debi Vinnedge, executive director of the Illinois-based pro-life group Children of God for Life, revealed multiple usages of aborted fetal cells by these programs, ranging from testing with Free Style 293 cells (human embryonic kidney cells from healthy aborted babies) to mixing aborted babies’ body parts with animals to create humanized mice and rats for study of vaccine immunological reactions.
Using aborted fetal cells is nothing unprecedented in the medical field, specifically in the area of vaccine development. HIV virus, ebola, influenza virus, West Nile virus, dengue virus are just a few of the diseases whose vaccines were created with aborted fetal cell lines. Sadly, in many of these cases, communities had no choice but to accept these vaccines regardless of their unethical origins. This time, however, the situation looks far more hopeful. Several other medical institutions are working to create COVID-19 vaccines which are not tied to abortion: the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur; the Pennsylvania-based Inovio; and the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, based in Iowa City, Iowa. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cited these institutions in a letter back in April to the FDA commissioner, which was also copied to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, urging officials to support these alternatives to fetal-lined vaccine production.
Such action is highly encouraging. Despite the current excitement and discussion, vaccine development is (or rather, should be) a slow and painstaking process. In fact, many health officials have already expressed concern that political pressure could lead to an over-hasty vaccine approval, even though predictions say a vaccine won’t be finished for at least a year. While this means that the COVID-19 vaccine is still a somewhat distant reality, the good news is that there is still time to fight for an ethical solution. If we start acting now to petition the government and join efforts to raise awareness of these ethical options, we can ensure that the vaccine which the U.S. ultimately approves is one that preserves human life and dignity both in its effects and its creation.