“[I]f 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,” the USCCB said. “Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”
The statement was signed by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who head the USCCB committees on doctrine and pro-life activities, respectively.
“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 bishops concluded.
The USCCB’s clarification follows a Feb. 26 statement from the Archdiocese of New Orleans calling the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “morally compromised” because of its connection with abortion.
While not prohibiting Catholics from receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if no other ethical alternative is available, the archdiocese advised Catholics to seek out the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines if possible.
“[W]e advise that if the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than to receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines,” the statement reads.
Bishop Michael Duca of Baton Rouge also weighed in on the matter this week in a March 1 letter to the faithful.
“[M]y guidance to the faithful of the Diocese of Baton Rouge is to accept as your first choices the vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna, but if for any reasonable circumstance you are only able to receive the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, you should feel free to do so for your safety and for the common good,” Bishop Duca wrote.
By contrast, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego wrote March 3 that “on the concrete moral and pastoral question of receiving the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson or Astra-Zeneca vaccines, I want to make clear to the Catholic communities of San Diego and Imperial Counties that in the current pandemic moment, with limited vaccine options available to achieve healing for our nation and our world, it is entirely morally legitimate to receive any of these four vaccines, and to recognize, as Pope Francis has noted, that in receiving them we are truly showing love for our neighbor and our God.”
America Magazine published a March 2 article with Catholic commenters suggesting it is “unhelpful” for the USCCB and other bishops to imply that people will have a choice in which vaccine to receive and arguing that Catholics should be comfortable taking any vaccine they are offered.
Many vaccines are produced by using certain human cell lines; common vaccines, including those used to inoculate children for smallpox, measles, and rubella, have been produced with cell lines derived from aborted babies, such as the HEK-293 cell line.
One of the touted advantages of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is that it does not require specialized refrigeration and can be delivered in a single dose, making it more attractive to some healthcare professionals than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Those vaccines require deep freeze storage and are administered in two doses.
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The Pontifical Academy for Life has said that Catholics should advocate for ethically-produced vaccines which do not use cell lines of aborted babies.
Editor's note, 2021 March 4 1105 MST: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed using the HEK-293 cell line, while in fact the PER.C6 cell line was used.