No, fetal tissue was not used to develop or manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Human cell lines derived from stem cells many years ago, not fetal tissue, were used to develop and manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a vector vaccine that uses a modified adenovirus to deliver the spike-protein gene. The adenovirus used has to be grown in human cells.  

When a vaccine or other medical treatment needs human cells in order to be manufactured or developed, scientists use cell lines. Cell lines are laboratory grown cells that are often decades removed from their source, having been carefully selected for specific characteristics. Many life saving medicines including treatments for diabetes, hemophilia, and anemia rely on human cell lines for their development and manufacture. 

Johnson & Johnson uses PER.C6 cells to develop and manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine. These cells originated from retina stem-cells isolated from an aborted fetus in the 1980s and have been genetically changed in the decades since then. No new cells and no tissue was used in the development and manufacture of the vaccine.

In December, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a statement approved by Pope Francis affirming, “It is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process...all vaccinations recognized as clinically safe and effective can be used in good conscience with the certain knowledge that the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive.”

In March, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops recommended that people choose the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because the mRNA vaccines do not rely on human cell lines for production. The Vatican has not indicated that any one vaccine is preferable over another.

To stop the pandemic and prevent more deaths due to COVID-19, it is important that as many people get vaccinated as quickly as possible regardless of which vaccine is used.  

Last update: 03 30, 2021, 10:30am ET

Science review: JAB, ERS