Are Fetal Cells Used to Make Vaccines?

Paul A. Offit, MD, discusses the use of fetal cells to make vaccines and the Catholic Church’s interpretation of the use of vaccines made in this manner.


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 at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

One issue, and it tends to be a little contentious, is “Are fetal cells used to make vaccines?” The answer's, yes. There were two elective abortions that were performed in the early 1960s, one in Sweden, one in England. Those cells that were obtained from those elective abortions have been used to make several vaccines. They’ve been used to make the hepatitis A vaccine, the chickenpox vaccine, the rubella, or German measles vaccine, one of the rabies vaccines. It’s the same cells that were obtained in the early 1960s, so no new therapeutic or elective abortions have been performed since then for the purpose of making vaccines. But the answer to the question, "Is there a residual or very small, small, small quantities of trace DNA from those original abortions in the vaccines that I just mentioned?" The answer is yes.

Now, the Catholic Church, through the Pontifical Academy of Life have weighed in on this issue because obviously for the Catholic Church, abortion is a sin, a sin worthy of excommunication, a sin that causes one to lose, frankly, the ability to participate in the sacraments of the church or Catholic life. So, I think Catholics have reasonably asked the question, “Can we get these vaccines?” And the Pontifical Academy of Life, at the timed headed by Joseph Ratzinger who became Pope Benedict XVI, has ruled that “yes” it is OK to get it. In fact it’s important to get these vaccines because vaccines save lives; vaccines prevent suffering; vaccines prevent hospitalization and occasionally death. And the Catholic Church, like any major religion, cares deeply about the health and well-being of children.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Jun 30, 2020