Are Fetal Cells Used to Make Vaccines?

Paul A. Offit, MD, discusses the use of fetal cells to make vaccines, highlighting how and why fetal cells are involved in the vaccine development process and the Catholic Church’s interpretation of the use of these vaccines.


Are fetal cells used to make vaccines?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I’m talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. One question that some parents are concerned about is whether or not vaccines are made using fetal cells. And the answer to that question is, yes. There are a few vaccines that are made that way. Now, the way that happens is that viral vaccines are grown in cells. Viruses, unlike bacteria, have to grow in cells. The question is what cell type one picks.

Now, there were two elective abortions that were performed in the early 1960s. One was performed in England, the other was performed in Sweden. And those two elective abortions then created cells which have been used ever since. And they’re used to make five different vaccines: the rubella, or German measles vaccine, the hepatitis A virus vaccine, the varicella, or chickenpox vaccine, the shingles vaccine, which essentially is the varicella or chickenpox vaccine. And lastly, one of the rabies vaccines.

Now, the answer to the question, is it true then that some of these vaccines that I’ve just mentioned could contain small quantities of residual DNA from those cells? And the answer to that question is, yes. And so some Catholics have wondered about this, have questioned this because certainly for the Catholic faith, abortions are a sin worthy of ex-communication. So that has worked its way up. That issues has worked its way up all the way to the major policy making body of the Catholic Church, which is the Pontifical Academy for Life.

At the time that this issue was brought up in front of that group, Joseph Ratzinger was the head of it. Ratzinger eventually became Pope Benedict XVI, which was our 265th pope. And he ruled on this issue by basically saying that while it was unfortunate that those cells were chosen to make those vaccines, that it was certainly justifiable still for a Catholic to give those, or anybody frankly, to give those vaccines to their children.

So, because those vaccines protect children, because vaccines keep children from suffering, or being permanently harmed, or dying, because the Catholic Church, as is true, I think, all major religions, values health, those vaccines are still recommended for Catholics who are concerned about them.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Aug 11, 2015