Does the vaccine contain fetal cells?

You’ve probably heard the encouraging news that there are vaccines against COVID-19. Two mRNA vaccines (from companies Moderna and Pfizer) have been authorized for use in the United States. Vaccines are an important public health measure for helping end the pandemic.

How do we make vaccines?

To make the vaccine and test vaccines, scientists often use cell lines. These cell lines work as factories to produce viral proteins that can be used in the development of the vaccine. The most common cell line used for vaccines are known as HEK293 cells. This cell line is very efficient at producing the proteins used to make vaccines.

Where do HEK293 cells come from?

HEK stands for human embryonic kidney. The cells were derived from the kidney of a fetus in the 1970s. The identity of the parents and fetus that HEK293 cells came from is unknown. The cells are immortalized, meaning they are able to divide indefinitely in a culture dish. 

HEK293 and other similar cell lines have helped us make extraordinary advances in science. New treatments for many diseases started with HEK293 cells.

Are these cells in the vaccine?

No, there are not any HEK293 cells, or any other cells, in the mRNA vaccine itself. The Moderna vaccine used a DNA vector that was produced using HEK293 cells, but the company did not use these cells to develop or manufacture their vaccine. Pfizer did not use HEK293 cells at any stage of their vaccine.

Can I be pro-life and still get the vaccine?

Other candidate vaccines (not Moderna or Pfizer) have used fetal cell lines in the development or production process. While a pro-life position is a matter of individual conscience, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope himself have said that “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process”. Additionally, pro-life medical ethicists have said that since the cell lines are immortal, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine does not increase demand for abortion.  Therefore, in their view, getting the COVID-19 vaccine is consistent with a pro-life position.

Last update: December 22, 2020, 4:12 pm ET

Science review: ERS, JAB, GSN