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Explainer: What You Need to Know About the COVID Vaccine and Fetal Tissue

Finally, Carter explores whether the use of cell lines actually promotes abortion. “It is unheard of for a vaccine manufacturer to seek out new human fetal cells from a recent abortion,” he writes. And the use of immortalized cell lines in modern research “is not increasing the number of abortions being carried out every year.” If it ever does, Carter adds, “the moral calculation” would change.

Carter concludes that “Christians are not morally culpable if they use treatments and vaccines that were developed using such cells, even if the cells originated in aborted fetal tissue.”

Christian Doctor: Consider ‘the greater good’  

Dr. Lina Abujamra, a Christian pediatrician who is pro-life and pro-vaccine, shares insights about the debate in a recent YouTube video. She says she spent more than a week preparing her comments because it’s important for Christians to get facts straight, to avoid creating “more smoke and vitriol,” and to focus on “love, life, and redemption.” 

After distinguishing between fetal tissue and immortalized cell lines, Abujamra points out that some Christians are worried about a slippery slope. Though those “discussions are important,” she says, that particular argument is “just not medically realistic” in this situation.

Christians also must weigh how many lives are at risk because of the ongoing pandemic, says the doctor. To achieve herd immunity and end coronavirus casualties, Abujamra notes, at least 80 percent of the population must consent to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

For a biblical analogy, Abujamra turns to gospel narratives of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. He did so for “the greater good,” she says, and “because he valued life.” Likewise, Christians who might be on the fence about complying with vaccine recommendations should consider what it means to love your neighbor and ask, “Where are more lives saved?”

Life-Saving Potential 

Dr. G. Kevin Donovan, a bioethicist at Georgetown University, echoes the “greater good” argument while admitting the issue is complex. “There are gradations of cooperation,” he says. “Some of them are so remote to what you see is the original evil act, that you can be morally justified in accepting some necessary, lifesaving good that comes from it. Not just for you, but by being immunized, you’re also not going to spread the virus to other people.’

Because this virus is novel, or new, scientists are still trying to determine how it replicates—and that’s where human cell lines come in. Viral immunologist Matthew Koci says those cell lines are key for any research involving “a virus that has to go through its life cycle.” Eventually, he says, a COVID-19 vaccine might be able to grow in nonhuman lines, such as chicken eggs or yeast, but that process takes years. In the meantime, vaccines developed from immortalized human cell lines have the potential to save lives and finally put the pandemic behind us…as long as enough people roll up their sleeves.