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The Ethics of Covid-19 Vaccines

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, pharmaceutical companies are working day and night trying to develop a vaccine to prevent further spread of the disease. While this activity is laudable, and we are all praying for their success in developing a vaccine and soon, there is also concern to insure that only ethical methods and ingredients are used in the creation of the vaccines, especially the avoidance of aborted fetal cell lines. Several of the vaccines currently undergoing research use fetal cell lines such as HEK-293 and PER-C6—to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. Even a pandemic does not justify violating the fundamental moral principles that guide ethical action: human life is sacred and should never be exploited.

Calling to mind the teachings of the Catholic Church in the 2008 instruction Dignitas personae, we must oppose the efforts of researchers and pharmaceutical firms to use cell lines derived from elective abortions especially when there are alternatives to such cell lines.

Some will try and make the claim that the use of the cell lines can be justified by the historical separation that exists between the deliberate abortions that gave rise to the lines and the current decisions of researchers to continue to use this biological material. However, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified:

Therefore, it needs to be stated that there is a duty to refuse to use such “biological material” even when there is no close connection between the researcher and the actions of those who performed . . . [the abortion]. This duty springs from the necessity to remove oneself, within the area of one’s own research, from a gravely unjust legal situation and to affirm with clarity the value of human life. (Dignitas personae, n. 35, emphasis original)

As of this writing, fortunately there are several ethical vaccines in development. One of them Sanofi Pasteur which is using its own recombinant DNA platform to produce a Covid-19 vaccine. According to the Department of HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) reports, Sanofi is using the DNA of the baculovirus expression platform, which is also used in their licensed Flublok Quadrivalent vaccine.

As in most seasonal flu vaccines, the need to produce large quantities of vaccine quickly has been a problem for many years as pharmaceutical companies used chicken eggs to cultivate their viruses. It takes several months and millions of eggs needed to produce the vaccines and so many companies began to turn to other cell lines for faster production.

One such company was Protein Sciences, whose recombinant DNA platform is based on insect cells. Their Sf9 cell line comes from the fall armyworm and is highly effective as a rapid growth medium. It has been used for several years in producing influenza vaccines. In 2017, Sanofi Pasteur bought Protein Sciences and is using this same platform for their newly developing Covid-19 vaccine, which will allow them the flexibility to make millions of doses of vaccine quickly.

“This is great news for millions of people world-wide who are concerned with the use of aborted fetal material in life-saving treatments or vaccines,” stated Ms. Debi Vinnedge, President and Executive Director of Children of God for Life. “There is a multitude of moral options that are safer and quite frankly, utilize a more modern technology.”

For the latest information on the development of ethical vaccines for Covid-19 visit

For a listing of all current vaccines that use fetal cell lines, and the ethical alternatives visit:

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