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ss triple helix - Autumn 2020,  Vaccinations


ethical challenges in the fight against infectious diseases
Review by Jennie PollockCMF Associate Head of Public Policy

In August, Australia's ABC News reported that the Anglican and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Sydney, Glenn Davies and Anthony Fisher, had raised ethical concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by a team at Oxford University. [1] The vaccine, AZD1222, which is currently undergoing trials in South Africa and Brazil, [2] was developed using a stem cell line derived from a fetus aborted in the early 1970s.[3]

The use of fetal-derived stem cells in the development of vaccines is not new. Vaccines for rubella, rabies, hepatitis A and chickenpox, for example, were derived using a stem cell line derived from abortions in the early 1960s. [4] How should we process the fact that we may already have benefited from research facilitated by voluntary abortions? How should we evaluate the morality of accepting a vaccine whose source is ethically questionable, when to denounce it could have catastrophic effects in the context of a global pandemic?

A paper from the Vatican in 2005 offers a helpful framework for considering these questions. [5] It concludes that 'there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems' but that where there is no alternative, the use of morally problematic vaccines may be necessary 'in order to avoid a serious risk... for the health conditions of the population as a whole'.

There are, of course, other ethical considerations around vaccines. These range from the source of research funding, how the vaccine is being tested and the ethical history of the institution, to the question of the legitimacy of a government ordering compulsory vaccination. CMF is spending some time looking into some of these issues, whilst being aware that Christians will differ on them, and it is up to individual conscience to decide with which questions we can live.

1. Borys S. Religious leaders question ethics of Oxford University developing coronavirus vaccine using cell lines from aborted foetus. ABC News Australia. 24 August 2020:

2. COVID-19 Oxford Vaccine Trial. University of Oxford:

3. Wadman M. Abortion opponents protest COVID-19 vaccines' use of fetal cells. Science. 5 June 2020:

4. Vaccine ingredients - Fetal tissues. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.>q9gi

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