“It is critically important that Americans have access to a vaccine that is produced ethically: no American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience,” members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 20 other religious, medical, and political organizations that oppose abortion wrote to Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in April. “Thankfully, other [COVID-19] vaccines … utilize cell lines not connected to unethical procedures and methods.”
“We urge your government to fund the development of vaccines that do not create an ethical dilemma for many Canadians,” wrote Archbishop of Winnipeg Richard Gagnon, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and 17 other antiabortion religious, medical, and politic groups and individuals in a 21 May letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “The … manufacture of vaccines using such ethically-tainted human cell lines demonstrates profound disrespect for the dignity of the human person.”
In four of the vaccines, the human fetal cells are used as miniature “factories” to generate vast quantities of adenoviruses, disabled so that they cannot replicate, that are used as vehicles to ferry genes from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. When the adenoviruses are given as a vaccine, recipients’ cells begin to produce proteins from the coronavirus, hopefully triggering a protective immune response.
The fifth vaccine, which has shown promise in monkeys and is headed for human trials as soon as this summer, is what is known as a protein subunit vaccine. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh use HEK-293 cells to manufacture the coronavirus’ spike protein—a vital part of its structure—which is used to trigger an immune response. The vaccine is delivered through a skin patch with 400 tiny needles.