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Irish bishops say Catholics can take a Covid-19 vaccine developed using foetal tissue

Neither the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine nor the Moderna vaccine were developed using foetal tissue.

Staff receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a residential care home in Belfast.
Staff receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a residential care home in Belfast.
Image: PA Images

A GROUP REPRESENTING bishops in Ireland have said that it’s “morally permissable” for Catholics to take a Covid-19 vaccine that involves using foetal cell lines.

The Irish bishops said that the Catholic Church recognises that safe and effective vaccination is “an essential aspect” of preventing disease, and that the refusal to accept a Covid-19 vaccine “could contribute to significant loss of life in the community”.

The statements from the bishops is referring to how genetic material from aborted foetuses was used – in many cases decades ago, and from terminations sought for unrelated reasons – to start ‘cell lines’ to produce some vaccines.

The cell substrate is used to create large quantities of the virus. These cell lines have multiplied over decades, to such scale that no new foetal tissue since the original cells has been required for them, and none of the original tissue exists.

In more recent years, new technologies have come along – such as mRNA vaccines – that allow alternative methods of creating vaccines other than using human cell lines.

Most Covid-19 vaccines in development do not use these cell lines to produce them.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine do not use foetal tissue – they are using new mRNA technology, which uses a DNA template rather than cells.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does use a human-derived cell strain called HEK 293 to develop its Covid-19 vaccine – but the cells are filtered out of the final vaccine product.

You can read more on this at Full Fact, on the BBC or in this TheJournal.ie FactCheck

What the bishops said

Despite the Catholic Church’s belief that “abortion is always gravely immoral”, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said this evening that “if a more ethically acceptable alternative” is not available, it is “morally permissible” for Catholics to accept a vaccine which used foetal cell lines.

“The Church has always made a distinction… between formal (deliberate) involvement in an immoral act and material involvement, which may be incidental and remote.

The decision of those who decide to accept vaccines which have had some link with foetal cell lines in the past does not imply any consent on their part to abortion.

The bishops also noted that many of the vaccines being developed do not depend on foetal cell lines as part of production.

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“Catholics should continue to advocate for the availability of ethically-developed vaccines,” the bishops’ statement added. 

The Government has announced its plan for the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine: care home residents over the age of 65, frontline healthcare workers, and people over the age of 70 are first in line to receive the vaccine if and when it is approved.

Yesterday, the UK became the first country to administer a clinically approved vaccine; with a 90-year-old Fermanagh grandmother who lives in England becoming the first person to receive it.

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