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Johnson & Johnson’s newly-approved Covid vaccine met with pushback as Catholic diocese condemns it for ‘ties to abortion cells’

Catholics are advised not to receive the vaccine because Johnson & Johnson used cell lines from abortions in both testing and production of the new product, the Archdiocese said in a statement. 

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have utilized cell lines from abortions in testing their previously approved vaccines, but not in their manufacturing processes, so they are considered “morally acceptable” because of their “extremely remote” connection to abortion, argued the second-oldest Catholic province in the US.

“We maintain that the decision to receive the Covid-19 vaccine remains one of individual conscience, in consultation with one’s healthcare provider,” the Archdiocese added. “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 the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.”

The Roman Catholic Church has been supportive of Covid-19 vaccines in general. In fact, Pope Francis asserted in January that people have a “moral obligation” to receive one of the new inoculations as soon as possible. 

“It is the moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others,” he said.

However, the church also remains staunchly opposed to abortion and any exploitation of tissue from aborted babies. The cells at issue with the new coronavirus vaccines trace back to fetal tissue from abortions performed in the 1970s and 1980s. Those cells have been replicated billions of times and manipulated in pharmaceutical research, similar to the treatment of cervical cancer cells of a woman named Henrietta Lacks, a patient at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Lacks’ cancer cells had an extraordinary ability to double every 20-24 hours, rather than quickly die like other cancer cells, allowing them to be used to study the effects of radiation, poisons, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. Though Lacks herself died in 1951, her cell lines live on today.

Johnson & Johnson aims to ship out 100 million doses of its new vaccine by the end of June, including 3.9 million that are scheduled to go out this week, after receiving emergency use authorization from the FDA on Saturday. Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, it requires only one dose for a person to be inoculated.

Like Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson product is a human adenovirus vector-based vaccine, which can’t replicate in human cells but triggers them to make “spike” proteins. The immune system recognizes those proteins as foreign and makes antibodies against them, which protect against the targeted virus. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use so-called messenger RNA (mRNA) to trick the person’s cells into making the proteins.

The Johnson & Johnson jab was shown in US testing to be 72 percent effective at preventing against Covid-19 infection and 86 percent effective at preventing severe illness or death. The two-dose Sputnik V tested at more than 95-percent effective, just above the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Adenoviral vaccines – including the Johnson & Johnson’s, Sputnik V and the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in Europe – can be stored in refrigerators, whereas the mRNA doses have to be kept deeply frozen.

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