Catholic Diocese of Nashville encourages vaccinations amid moral concerns with abortion link

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Some religious leaders have concerns about the morality of the COVID-19 vaccine due to its link to fetal tissue used during the vaccine’s development.

The chairmen of two U.S. bishops committees said in a statement that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine “raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.”

“Vaccination is a real and important step that we have to fight the COVID infection,” said Catholic Diocese of Nashville Communications Director Rick Musacchio. “With the real concerns that have been raised about various vaccinations, it’s important to remember that if only one is available, people should take advantage of the opportunity – we encourage that.”

MORE: ‘We’re in a better place now’, vaccines head to Tennessee despite some mismanagement

In December, the bishops shared concerns about the BioNtech and Moderna vaccines because “an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them,” but “not used in their production.” However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine raises “additional moral concerns” because it was “developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines”.

The bishops said if, given the option, Catholics should use the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines and opt for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines over Johnson & Johnson’s.

Vanderbilt University infectious disease expert Dr. David Aronoff said people need to also understand the cell lines used were derived from fetuses aborted in the 1970s.

“It’s important for people to know that there is no fetal tissue in the vaccine that people are receiving and that the vaccine is very very much a life-saving vaccine and is a really important part of our vaccine armamentarium against COVID-19,” said Dr. Aronoff. “Obviously if people have strong feelings against or are unwilling to get a vaccine that was developed using fetally derived tissue we’re also fortunate that there are other choices and as those choices become more available that will make it even easier for individual people to choose based on beliefs such as that.”

While not disputing the church officials’ contention that an abortion-derived cell line is used in the production, Johnson & Johnson issued a statement stressing that there is no fetal tissue in its vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is made using a harmless cold virus, called an adenovirus, the same technology it used to produce a successful Ebola vaccine. The adenovirus is grown using what’s called an immortalized cell line, and the virus then is pulled out and purified.

Mussachio said this was all part of a bigger issue.

“We encourage the pharmaceutical industry to develop medications and vaccines following moral and ethical guidelines,” Mussachio said. “Abortion is taking a life – no doubt about that. And it is always important to consider the implications of that. It is not a proper way to create even good medications under normal circumstances. This is a time to speak up and consider that and weigh those implications and making it clear that if a choice is available, one should take the choice that protects life.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities full statement:

“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.

“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production.  The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.’[1] However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.  

“While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From availability to current phases, find vaccine information for every Tennessee county using News 2’s Vaccine Tracker map.

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