USCCB, St Louis, New Orleans archdioceses: Catholics should seek ethical alternatives to Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine

Johnson & Johnson’s stem cell line comes from an abortion performed in 1985, according to Science.

-by Christine Rousselle, Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2021 / 05:00 pm MT (CNA).- The Archdiocese of New Orleans says that the recently-approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is “morally compromised,” and advises Catholics to use ethical alternatives if available.

The Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with an emergency use authorization issued on Feb. 27.

The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute had determined that the vaccine used abortion-derived cell lines in design and development, production, and lab testing. The New Orleans archdiocese on Feb. 26 stated that the vaccine was “morally compromised” because of its connection with abortion.

However, the two other available COVID-19 vaccines are “morally acceptable,” the archdiocese said, while also not prohibiting Catholics from receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if no other ethical alternative is available.

The decision to receive a vaccination for COVID-19 “remains one of individual conscience in consultation with one’s healthcare provider,” the archdiocese said.

“The Archdiocese of New Orleans, in light of guidance from the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and The National Catholic Bioethics Center affirm that though there was some lab testing that utilized the abortion-derived cell line, the two vaccines currently available from Pfizer and Moderna do not rely on cell lines from abortions in the manufacturing process and therefore can be morally acceptable for Catholics as the connection to abortion is extremely remote,” the archdiocese’s statement read.

Ethicists have said that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were “ethically uncontroversial” as their connection to abortions in the design phase were extremely remote. However, some lab tests for the vaccines were conducted using aborted fetal cell lines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meanwhile, used aborted fetal cell lines in all phases.

“It is under the same guidance that the archdiocese must instruct Catholics that the latest vaccine from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson is morally compromised as it uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine as well as the testing,” the archdiocese said. This ethical problem is similar to that of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which also used an abortion-derived cell line in the development and testing of their product.

The archdiocese emphasized 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.”

A cell line derived from an abortion decades prior (HEK-293) is commonly used in the testing and development of pharmaceuticals.

The Archdiocese’s statement echoes that made in December by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Back then, they stated that it was “morally acceptable” to receive vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available.

In a note issued Dec. 21, the CDF said that in countries where ethically uncontroversial vaccines are not available or where their distribution is limited, it is “morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

This does not in any way imply a legitimation of the grave evil of the practice of abortion or that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses, the Vatican congregation said.

One of the touted advantages of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is that it does not require specialized refrigeration and can be delivered in a single dose, making it more attractive to some healthcare professionals than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Those vaccines require deep freeze storage and are administered in two doses.”

Author Headshot By David Leonhard, New York Times, 3/4/2021

“Many Americans are worried that Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine is an inferior product that may not be worth getting. Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota recently told The Washington Post that he was now seeing not only “vaccine hesitancy” but also “the potential for brand hesitancy.”

The perception stems from the headline rates of effectiveness of the three vaccines: 72 percent for Johnson & Johnson, compared with 94 percent for Moderna and 95 percent for Pfizer. But those headline rates can be misleading in a few ways.

The most important measure — whether the vaccine prevents serious illness — shows the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be equally effective as the other two. All work for nearly 100 percent of people. The picture is murkier for mild cases, but they are not particularly worrisome.

Today, I want to unpack the statistics about the three vaccines and explain why the current perception is a problem.

I’ll start with an anecdote that this newsletter has included once before: Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University, was recently talking with some colleagues about what they would tell a family member who could choose between getting the Johnson & Johnson tomorrow and one of the other vaccines in three weeks.

“All of us said, ‘Get the one tomorrow,’” as Schaffner recounted to my colleague Denise Grady. “The virus is bad.”

The headline effectiveness numbers — like 72 percent — describe a vaccine’s ability to prevent all infections from this coronavirus, known as SARS-Cov-2. But preventing all infections is less important than it may sound. The world is not going to eliminate SARS-Cov-2 anytime soon. Coronaviruses circulate all the time, causing the common cold and other manageable illnesses.

The trouble with this virus is its lethality. It has killed 15 times as many Americans as an average flu season. Turning Covid into something more like a mild flu or common cold means victory over the pandemic.

All three vaccines being used in the U.S. are accomplishing that goal. In the research trials, none of the people who received a vaccine died of Covid. And after the vaccines had taken full effect, none were hospitalized, either.

In the real world, the vaccines won’t achieve quite as stellar outcomes. Still, the results are excellent — and equally excellent across the three, as Dr. Cody Meissner of the Tufts School of Medicine said during a recent F.D.A. meeting.
Like running into the wind

But why doesn’t Johnson & Johnson appear to be as good at preventing mild illness?

There are a few possible answers. For one, Johnson & Johnson’s research trials seem to have had a greater degree of difficulty. They occurred later than Moderna’s or Pfizer’s — after one of the virus variants had spread more widely. The variant appears to cause a greater number of mild Covid cases among vaccinated people than the original virus.

Second, Johnson & Johnson is currently only one shot, while Moderna and Pfizer are two shots. That happened mostly because of how strong the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is. Initial testing showed it to deliver impressive levels of immunity after only one shot, while the others required a booster, as Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, explained to me.

The truth is that all of the vaccines seem to provide significant protection after a single shot. (Look at Britain, which is not rushing to give second shots and where cases and deaths continue to plummet.) Similarly, all three vaccines may benefit from a second shot.

I recognize that may make some people anxious about getting the single Johnson & Johnson shot, but it shouldn’t. If further data suggest that a second Johnson & Johnson shot would help, regulators can change their recommendation. Regardless, follow-up Covid shots may be normal in the future.

What’s the bottom line? A single Johnson & Johnson shot may indeed allow a somewhat larger number of mild Covid cases than two shots of Moderna or Pfizer. It’s hard to be sure.”

Love,
Matthew

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