Are Fetal Cells Used to Make COVID-19 Vaccines?

Dr. Paul Offit addresses fetal cells and COVID-19 vaccines.


Are fetal cells used to make COVID-19 vaccines?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit from the Vaccine Education Center. One concern that parents have about the new SARS-CoV-2 vaccines is: Do they contain fetal cells? There are a number of vaccines that are currently used and that are given to infants and young children that originally when they were derived, they were derived from fetal cells, from pregnancies that were terminated, two pregnancies that were terminated in the early 1960s, one in England, another in Sweden. And those cells, which are now almost 60 years old, were used to make vaccines like the chickenpox vaccine and the German measles [rubella] vaccine, and the hepatitis A vaccine, and one of the rabies vaccines. So how about these vaccines? These SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, do they contain fetal cells, or were they in any sense derived from fetal cells?

Well, so there currently, and this is today is January 12th, 2021, there are two vaccines that are currently being used in the United States, one by Pfizer, one by Moderna. They're both made the same way. They're both messenger RNA vaccines, and neither of those contain or derived from fetal cells.

There are a couple of vaccines, however, around the corner, one of them made by a company called Johnson & Johnson, which is using a replication-defective human adenovirus type 26. Another one is being made by AstraZeneca in collaboration with the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, and that's a replication-defective simian adenovirus. And when those viruses were grown up early on in development, they both were made actually using fetal cells. One was a fetal cell line that was derived in 1972; the other was a fetal cell line that was derived in the early 1980s. So, it is true then that fetal cells were used in the generation of both the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines. So that is correct.

The good news is, is the Catholic Church has weighed in on this issue. They did that years ago through the Pontifical Academy of Life, and have argued that since the Catholic Church values the sanctity of life and since vaccines in fact preserve and lengthen life, that they have no problem with Catholics receiving vaccines that were derived from fetal cells.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Feb 10, 2021