When people think of a vaccine-abortion link, they often think vaccines are causing pregnancy complications. While that is a legitimate concern, there is another reason why fetuses and vaccines are connected.
Certain religious groups often boycott vaccines, not because they have something against protecting their children from disease, but because their beliefs conflict with the vaccination creation process. The concern for some individuals is many common vaccines are derived from fetal stem cells, originally obtained from donated aborted fetuses.
That’s right, some vaccines like the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine are cultured in cells originating from aborted fetuses, and that makes some people uncomfortable.
But the development of vaccines isn’t remotely as simple as that revelation makes it sound. Yes, many vaccines are cultured in human stem cells, but what people aren’t told is those stem cells come from a long line of cells grown from a small number of fetuses donated to research more than 50 years ago.
What’s more, no new aborted fetuses have been used in vaccine production, and the cells currently utilized are maintained under strict guidelines from the American Type Culture Collection.
“Merck, as well as other vaccine manufacturers, uses two well-established human cell lines to grow the virus for selected vaccines,” Merck said in a statement to ABC News. “The FDA has approved the use of these cell lines for the production of these Merck vaccines. These cell lines are now more than three generations removed from their origin, and we have not used any new tissue to produce these vaccines.”
Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the vaccine education center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told Good Morning America there is about as much human DNA in a vaccine as there is in the food we eat, so people shouldn’t be concerned as far as that goes. “There are perhaps nanograms of DNA fragments still found in the vaccine, perhaps billionths of a gram,” he said. “You would find as much if you analyzed the fruits and vegetables you eat.”
But what about the ethical considerations? Undoubtedly there are some moral concerns for individuals who are against abortion. Even though the cells used today are from half a century ago, they are still from aborted pregnancies and therefore are against some religions.
Though every religion has its own beliefs, many are waiving the anti-abortion sentiment when it comes to vaccinations. Catholics are one such group, and the National Catholic Bioethics Center states on its website: “We should always ask our physician whether the product he proposes for our use has an historical association with abortion, [however] one is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine,” the center’s position statement continued.
“This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”
Though not all religious organizations may agree, the fact remains that vaccine manufacturing will–at least in the foreseeable future–always utilize human stem cells. According to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, only human fetal cells can reproduce at a rate effective for vaccine production. Human cells are also necessary for accurate virus growth as human viruses do not culture well in other animal tissue.