The ethics of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine

Vaccine Credit Seasontime  Shutterstock Seasontime/Shutterstock.

While the Bishop of Tyler asserted Monday that the coronavirus vaccine being developed by Moderna "is not morally produced", the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Charlotte Lozier Institute have reached a contrary conclusion, saying the vaccine's production is not ethically problematic.

Bishop Joseph Strickland tweeted Nov. 16 that "Unborn children died in abortions and then their bodies were used as 'laboratory specimens'. I urge all who believe in the sanctity of life to reject a vaccine which has been produced immorally."

But the Charlotte Lozier Institute, research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has listed the Moderna vaccine among the "ethically uncontroversial CoV-19 vaccine programs."

Moderna recently announced that a trial of its vaccine demonstrated it to be 94.5% effective. The trial involved 30,000 people, half of whom were given two doses of the vaccine, and half a placebo.

In the trial, 95 people developed symptoms of Covid-19; five of them had received the vaccine, while 90 had received the placebo. None of those vaccinated developed severe cases of the disease.

The company plans to apply soon for approval to use the vaccine in the US.

Moderna's vaccine is based on the virus' RNA, and uses a spike protein, or peplomer, from SARS-CoV-2 rather than cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.

The RNA is injected into the recipient, which induces their cells to produce the spike protein. This triggers the production of antibodies and T cells by the recipient.

Scientists not from Moderna had initially made DNA vectors with the gene sequence of the spike protein, and injected them in HEK-293 cells to produce the spike protein. The HEK 293 cell line is derived from a baby who was aborted in the Netherlands in the 1970s.

The production of the DNA vectors was studied and evaluated by experts at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the University of Texas, who determined that the spike protein was a good candidate for testing. Moderna was not involved in the DNA construction, nor was it involved in the evaluation of the construction.

Dr. John Brehany, director of institutional relations at the NCBC, told CNA in July that while Moderna thus has some association with the use of cell lines from elective abortions, it is not responsible for that use, and its vaccine was not produced using HEK 293 cells.

He added that the inoculation of the Moderna vaccine "is not based on using cells at all in production."

The Vatican has said that researchers have a duty to avoid using cell lines derived from aborted children in vaccine production, but that parents can, for serious reasons, use these vaccines for their children if already produced, in the interest of public health, while publicly advocating for an ethical alternative.

Numerous companies are developing coronavirus vaccines.

The vaccines being developed by AstraZeneca and Janssen are produced using abortion-derived cell lines.

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Merck, Novavax, and Sanofi are producing vaccines from animal cells, while Inovio Pharmaceuticals is developing a DNA vaccine without the use of cells in its production. The Charlotte Lozier Institute holds these to be ethical permissible.

Like Moderna's vaccine, Pfizer's is produced using the coronavirus' RNA. It recently announced a 90% effectiveness rate from its trial.

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