Photograph: Timothy D Easley / EPA
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has told local Catholics to avoid Johnson & Johnson’s single-injection Covid-19 vaccine because its early development used “morally compromised cell lines created from two abortions.”
He said two other vaccines used in the United States, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, were acceptable although they had been developed with “laboratory tests using the abortion-derived cell line.” The archdiocese made the announcement on Friday.
Related: Vatican says Covid vaccine is ‘morally acceptable’
The statement put the archdiocese at odds with Pope Francis. In December, the Vatican said it was “morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process” because the use of these vaccines “does not constitute not a formal cooperation with the abortion from which are derived the cells used in the production of vaccines ”.
Cells derived from a voluntary abortion in the Netherlands in the 1970s are widely used in medical research. Last October, it was widely reported that an experimental Covid-19 therapy administered to Donald Trump, Regeneron, had been developed using such cells.
Like most Republicans, the then president had courted anti-abortion groups and decided to restrict the use of fetal tissue in research. Research on fetal tissue has led to a number of important medical advancements, particularly in the development of vaccines.
Cell lines derived from aborted tissues have been used in the development of vaccines against polio, chickenpox, hepatitis A and shingles. Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, used PER.C6 cells, a proprietary cell line derived from tissue aborted in 1985.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has said it maintains “that the decision to receive the Covid-19 vaccine remains a decision of individual conscience in consultation with its health care provider. We also maintain that the church’s position in no way diminishes the harms of those who have 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 one of these vaccines rather than receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to its extensive use of cell lines derived from the ‘abortion.”
The comments from the diocese come as the United States begins nationwide distribution of three coronavirus vaccines cleared for emergency use by drug regulators. Reluctance to vaccinate has been a major concern throughout the pandemic, as vaccines must reach a large majority of adults to protect those who are not eligible to receive vaccines, such as children under the age of 16. years and the immunocompromised.
More than 28.6 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and 515,000 killed since the start of the pandemic.
Joe Biden and Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist and chief medical adviser to the president, are both Catholics. Asked about the vaccine’s effectiveness, Fauci told NBC, “All three of them are really, really good and people should take the one that’s most available to them. People need to get the vaccine ASAP and ASAP, and if I was going to a place where they had Johnson & Johnson, I would have no hesitation in taking it.
Anti-abortion groups and Catholic leaders in the United States and Canada have raised ethical objections to the origin of cell lines throughout the pandemic. In June, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter urging the Trump administration to “encourage” the development of vaccines that do not use such cell lines.
“It is extremely important that Americans have access to an ethically produced vaccine,” the letter said. “No American should be forced to choose between getting vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating their conscience.”
New Orleans isn’t the only diocese to engage in anti-abortion rhetoric. In January, Joseph Strickland, Bishop of Tyler, Texas and “host of The Bishop Strickland Hour on VMP Radio,” tweeted: “All the political postures on vaccines are really disgusting.
“The fact remains that ANY vaccine available today involves the use of children who have been murdered before they are even born. I renew my promise… I will not prolong my life USING murdered children. It’s wrong WAKE UP! “
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University School of Medicine, told Science magazine in June: “There are better ways to win the abortion wars than to tell people not to use a vaccine. . These are abortions that have lasted a long time. These cells are decades old, and even major religious leaders like the Pope have recognized that for the greater good, it was not worth the symbolism to endanger the community.
According to Johns Hopkins University, as of Tuesday morning, Louisiana had recorded 430,504 cases of Covid-19 and 9,628 deaths. According to an immunization tracker, nearly 700,000 people had received at least one vaccine in the state.