Vatican says COVID-19 vaccines ‘morally acceptable’ when no alternatives are available

Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer at the Vatican Press Office Sept 8 2015 Credit Daniel Ibanez CNA The then Archbishop Luis Ladaria at the Vatican Sept. 8, 2015./ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith stated Monday that it is "morally acceptable" to receive COVID-19 vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available.

In a note issued Dec. 21, the CDF said that in countries where vaccines without ethical problems are unavailable to physicians and patients -- or where their distribution is more difficult due to special storage or transport conditions -- it is "morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process."

This does not in any way imply a legitimation of the grave evil of the practice of abortion or that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses, the Vatican congregation said.

As COVID-19 vaccines begin to be distributed in some countries, questions have arisen regarding the connection of these vaccines to aborted fetal cell lines.

The mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer are not produced with aborted fetal cell lines, although aborted fetal cells were used in tests during the early states of vaccine design.

Three other leading vaccine candidates developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax, are all produced using aborted fetal cell lines.

The CDF said that it had received multiple requests for guidance regarding the Covid-19 vaccines, "which in the course of research and production, employed cell lines drawn from tissue obtained from two abortions that occurred in the last century."

It noted that there had been "diverse and sometimes conflicting" messages made in the media by bishops and Catholic organizations.

The CDF's statement, approved by Pope Francis on Dec. 17, went on to say that the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 poses a grave danger and therefore the moral duty to avoid the remote passive material cooperation is not obligatory.

"It must therefore be considered that, in such a case, all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive," the CDF said in the note signed by its head, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, and secretary, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi.

The Vatican congregation encouraged pharmaceutical companies and governmental health agencies to "produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated."

"In fact, the licit use of such vaccines does not and should not in any way imply that there is a  moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses," the note stated.

The CDF also stated that vaccination "must be voluntary," while noting that those who refuse to receive vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses for reasons of conscience "must do their utmost to avoid … becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent."

"In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.

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