Fetal Cells and Covid-19 Vaccines

By Dr. Alex Tang

Dr. Alex Tang is a trained paediatrician, and while this article is published on Asian Beacon’s website for the education of readers, the views stated in this article are entirely expressed by Dr. Alex after careful consideration.

There has been some concern that the Covid-19 vaccines were made from aborted fetal cells. Covid-19 infection is caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus which is an RNA virus. Were aborted human fetal cells used in the creation of Covid-19 vaccines?

Vaccines developed from fetal cell lines were not new. Pharmaceutical companies find that cell lines are perfect for vaccines to grow. The fetal cell lines used were derived in the 1960s and 1970s from two elective abortions that were not performed for vaccine development. Fetal cell lines were used to create vaccines for diseases such as hepatitis A, rubella, and rabies. Only two fetal cell lines were being used: HEK-293 (a kidney cell line that was isolated from a terminated fetus in 1972), and PER.C6 (a retinal cell line that was isolated from a terminated fetus in 1985). No other fetal cells from terminated fetuses or abortions were used. No new abortions were done to obtain new fetal cell lines.

Of the Covid-19 vaccines, only live-attenuated or inactivated virus vaccines, and viral vector vaccines used fetal cell lines. Some of these are using animal cell lines while others use human fetal cell lines. Some examples are AstraZeneca, CanSino, Gamaleya, and Janseen. Other DNA, RNA, and Protein vaccines do not need fetal cell lines for their development. Examples of RNA vaccines are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. For a full list see here:

Update: COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates and Abortion-Derived Cell Lines

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To those who are concerned about the moral implications of using vaccines derived from aborted fetal cells, the RNA, DNA, and Protein vaccines will not be a problem. It is only as we face the issue of live attenuated or inactivation vaccines that the problem arises. I believe Thomas Aquinas – one of the greatest theologians of the church – offers some wisdom on this issue. From Thomas Aquinas, we learn of the principle of natural law, the principle of totality, and the principle of double effect.

Thomas Aquinas

The principle of natural law states that the “Natural Law consists of the first judgment that good should be pursued and evil avoided”. It means that whatever action it may be should seek for the greater good and not for greater harm. A vaccine is for the greater good. It gives some protection for the vulnerable and those at high risk, especially the older persons, those with other chronic medical conditions, and those whose immune systems are weak. It also aims to create herd immunity to protect those who did not have an opportunity to be infected. In the natural law, we should aim to do good, not evil.

In his second principle, the law of totality, Aquinas noted that “the body may be changed only to ensure the proper functioning of the whole body.” He pointed out that it is our duty to be responsible stewards not only of our own bodies but that of our neighbors. A vaccine enables better functioning of the body against the virus. Aquinas may not be aware of vaccination, but he was aware of plagues and pestilences.

The third and final principle from Aquinas is the principle of double effect. Aquinas taught “The act must be good or at least morally neutral. The moral agent must intend only the good effect and the bad effect must not be the means of bringing about the good effect. The good and the bad effect must be proportional.” He was saying that sometimes you have to do something bad so that some good will emerge. For example, if a pregnant woman has an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is when the fetus is implanted not in the uterus but in one of her fallopian tubes. After growing to a certain size, the fetus will rupture the fallopian tube and the mother will bleed to death. The doctor may have to go in to remove the fetus to save the mother’s life. Without the operation, both will die. However, removing the fetus is what we understand as abortion. The principle of double effect is abortion though a negative action was done with the intention of a good effect, the survival of the mother. The fetus died so that the mother may live.

Aquinas’s teaching may have an impact on how we think about fetal cell lines. These fetal cell lines were derived from two abortions done 30-40 years ago. Yet these fetuses are providing a legacy to ensure that others keep on living. Two negative events are providing many positive effects. For the Vatican’s directive, see below:


Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines (21 December 2020)

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Ultimately, the choice is yours. As I mentioned, not all Covid-19 vaccines are made from human fetus cells. What is essential is that enough persons need to be vaccinated for their individual and their neighbors’ protection.

About Dr. Alex Tang

Dr. Alex Tang is an associate professor and paediatrician at the KPJ Johor Specialist Hospital. As well as being a practising medical officer, Dr. Alex also serves as a Practical Theologian at the Kairos Spiritual Formation Ministries.