Are human fetal cells used to make some vaccines?

Question: 

Are human fetal cells used to make some vaccines? 

Answer: 

Yes. Some vaccines are made by growing the vaccine viruses in human fetal cells. 

The fetal cells that are used to grow vaccine viruses were originally obtained from fetuses aborted decades ago. The fetuses were not aborted to make vaccines. These same cells continually grow in the laboratory, and no new sources of fetal cells are used to make vaccines today. 

Fetal cells are used because viruses need to be grown in cells, and human cells are often better than animal cells at supporting the growth of human viruses. The vaccines themselves do not contain fetal cells or tissue. The purification process removes nearly all the cell components so that only trace amounts of DNA and protein may be present in the vaccine. 

Ethicists from the US National Catholic Bioethics Center concluded that the use of human cells in vaccine production was not contrary to their religious practices or beliefs. A statement from the Vatican says, “Parents have a serious obligation to protect their children from disease whenever possible, and in doing so, they are not signaling their approval for abortion.” 

The following vaccines used in Canada are made by growing the vaccine viruses in fetal cells:

  • Varicella (chickenpox) vaccines
  • Hepatitis A vaccines (including Twinrix and the travel vaccine Vivaxim, which protects against typhoid and hepatitis A)
  • Rubella vaccines (given as measles, mumps, rubella and measles, mumps, rubella, varicella)
  • One rabies vaccine (Imovax Rabies)
  • One shingles vaccine (Zostavax II)

There are 2 COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in Canada that are made using fetal cells: the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine and the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine. Although fetal cells are not used to make the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, they were used in the very early stages of development of these vaccines to test “proof of concept” (to test that the vaccines could work).

Date last reviewed: 
Thursday, Jul 08, 2021