I am constantly asked, so here are some thoughts and explanations on vaccines.
First, I’ll be upfront about the fact that I support vaccines, am grateful for the technology that makes them possible, and accept that they are generally safe. But there are qualifications.
The main one relates to those vaccines which had an association, during their development, with foetal cell lines. In Australia, this includes the MMR, Chickenpox, Hepatitis A, and Rabies vaccines. A person’s attitude to these vaccines is a matter of individual conscience that ought to be respected.
You may wonder which way your conscience ought to go – the following information may help:
Vaccine development requires a cellular environment.
Companies buy cells “off the shelf” for this purpose, called “cell lines.” They have names which are combinations of letters and numbers.
The cells are not ingredients in the vaccine; they are tools used during the research and development process.
But some have raised the question – where did these cell lines come from?
In each case, they descended from an original cell. That cell was replicated once, twice, three times… and to infinity, over many years. These replicated cells, descended from an original cell at some point in history, are the “cell line”.
In some cases, the original cell was from plant matter. In others, from an animal. Sometimes, they come from human tissue. Then, there are cases where the original cell was from an aborted foetus.
There are two or three popular foetal cell lines which originated from abortions in or around the 1960s. They each came from a single abortion. Their use does not result in more abortions. The abortions were not for the purpose of creating the cell line.
These cell lines are used so extensively in biotech and medicine that they are ubiquitous. We will all encounter and probably use multiple products developed with their help during our lifetimes.
Most theologians, Christian bioethicists, and all church denominations which speak to the matter, do not consider it sinful to use products, including vaccines, which have had an association with these foetal cell lines. They make that deduction because it does not amount to complicity in abortion, nor endorsement of abortion. In other words, taking these vaccines does not cause or support abortions.
Whilst I have accepted this view for a while, I must confess to harbouring uncertainty in more recent times, along – I think – with anyone who really cares about the pro-life cause. Taking an affected vaccine may not be sinful per se, but I can see that it is a serious matter of individual conscience. On the one hand, the association is incredibly remote – materially and historically. On the other hand, an abortion is a serious matter.
The situation becomes more complex, because there is no completely 'ethical' COVID-19 vaccine. (Some time ago, we indicated that the Prime Minister's office had confirmed there would be an 'ethical' alternative vaccine. Sadly, this was the UQ candidate which was abandoned during the testing phase.)
Pfizer’s is the best from an ethical standpoint, but not perfect. (Because it does not rely on a foetal cell line for its development or manufacture... they only made use of a foetal cell line to conduct some trials.) I believe that this is reason enough not to make the COVID-19 vaccines compulsory.
This conscience issue is not fanciful or baseless. It should be respected in cases where it is genuine.