Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine morally wrong? Catholic bishops caution just that

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The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is urging people to seek alternatives to coronavirus vaccine produced by Janssen, a company of Johnson & Johnson, arguing that the product raises additional moral concerns through its connection to aborted fetal cells.

In a press release Tuesday, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades said that people should instead take Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccines if possible.

“[I]f one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen,” the statement from Rhoades reads.

“Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”

On Friday, the Archdiocese of New Orleans released a similar statement warning that “the latest vaccine from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson is morally compromised.” read from the Archdiocese.

The USCCB previously said Catholics could receive Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines, noting that use of the products was “very remote from the initial evil of the abortion.”

The debate centers around the cell line HEK-293, which was cloned from a fetus aborted in the early 1970s. The cell line itself is not composed of original fetal tissue and neither Moderna’s, Pfizer’s, nor Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines contain fetal tissue. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine on Saturday.

Still, the USCCB has urged Catholics to refrain from utilizing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines if “comparable alternatives with no connection to abortion are available.”

The conference also specified that the use of the cell line in development and production meant that AstraZeneca’s vaccine, like Johnson & Johnson’s, raised more moral concerns than the other two.

In a statement provided to Fox News Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson defended its research.

“There is no fetal tissue in our Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. Our COVID-19 vaccine is an inactivated/non-infective adenovirus vector (similar to a cold virus), which codes for the coronavirus ‘spike’ (S) protein,” a company statement read.

“We are able to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses using our engineered cell-line system that enables the rapid production of new viral vaccines to combat many of the most dangerous infectious diseases.”

The archdiocese emphasized the role of a medical providers and an individual’s conscience.

“We maintain that the decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine remains one of individual conscience in consultation with one’s healthcare provider,” the statement read. 

“We also maintain that in no way does the Church’s position diminish the wrongdoing of those who decided to use cell lines from abortions to make vaccines. In doing so, we advise that if the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than to receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.”

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