It’s being hailed as a major breakthrough. But for pro-lifers, the news of a prospective Covid-19 vaccine will immediately raise one question: does it use cell-lines from aborted babies?
The answer, according to Helen Watt of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, is no. Dr Watt told the Catholic Herald: “This vaccine is cell-free – it makes no use of a foetal cell-line in the production process itself, and no use in the design.”
However, she added, “One of the confirmatory lab tests on the vaccine did sadly involve an old foetal cell-line.
“While we regret the use of that particular test, we are glad that the involvement of any foetal cell-line is much less than in the case of some other Phase 3 vaccine candidates.”
The prospective vaccine, produced by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the biotechnology company BioNTech, has undergone its final stage of testing and is reported to be 90 per cent effective. Pfizer say they will be able to distribute 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
It has not yet been approved by regulators, but Professor Peter Hornby of Oxford University described Pfizer’s announcement as a “watershed moment”.
Several Catholic bioethicists have said that even if a vaccine did make use of a foetal cell-line, it would not necessarily be wrong to use it.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said earlier this year: “I, for one, don’t think it would be unethical to use this vaccine if there is no alternative available. To do so would not be to co-operate in any abortion occurring in the past or the future.”
But he added that he was “deeply troubled” by the prospect, saying that others “won’t want to be associated with or benefit in any way from the death of the baby girl whose cells were taken and cultivated, nor to be thought to be trivialising that death, nor to be encouraging the foetal tissue industry.”
The archbishop warned that using a vaccine with links to abortion would create “new social tensions” if the vaccine became compulsory or was encouraged by social pressure.