Fact: Vaccines do not contain human fetal tissue, fetal cells, or even whole human DNA strands.
Why the Myth Exists
The ingredients in some vaccines include “human diploid cells”, “MRC-5 cells”, or “human embryonic lung cultures”.
Variations on this Myth
- “Vaccines are full of aborted babies.”
- “Injecting human DNA from aborted fetal tissue causes auto-immune disease.”
Examples Found Online
The Real Deal: What the Evidence Shows
Vaccines are not made from—and do not contain—human fetal tissue. They do not contain human fetal cells or even whole human DNA strands.
The Difference Between Molecules, Cells, and Tissues
To better understand the distinction between the alarmist claims and the truth, let’s take a brief look at biological organization levels.
Molecules are groups of atoms that are bonded together in some way. Molecules can combine to form even larger molecules. For example, molecules called nucleotides combine to form the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecule. A strand of DNA within a single human cell is about two inches long if stretched out.
Cells are the basic biological units of all living things. Cells all have a membrane separating inside from outside. Most cells contain a nucleus, which holds the cell’s DNA.
Tissues are groupings of similar types of cells to perform a specific function. Examples include muscle tissue, connective tissue, and epithelial tissue.
When people speak of fetal tissue being contained in the vaccine preparation, it implies there are sheets of skin or muscle cells being injected into us. But in reality, all that remains are fragments of DNA molecules, if anything.
The term diploid refers having two sets of chromosomes. Regular human body cells have two sets; sex cells like egg and sperm have one set.
About the Fetal Cell Lines
A cell line is a population of cells which can divide indefinitely outside of an organism, in a container such as a Petri dish.
A few vaccines are cultured in human cell lines that originated from two legal, elective pregnancy terminations in the 1960’s. The abortions were not performed in order to create vaccines.
Some of the lung cells from an abortion in Sweden were sent to the Wistar Institute (WI) in Philadelphia. These cells were named WI-38. Some of the lung cells from a 1966 abortion in England were sent to Medical Research Council (MRC) in Wiltshire, England. These cells were named MRC-5.
These cells are fibroblasts: they can be used to form connective tissue in the body. But they do not form tissues in a Petri dish. The cells remain separate from each other.
The cells have replicated countless times in the past 50 or so years. The individual cells that continue to divide today are far removed from the original cell cultures. Large volumes of vaccine can be created in these cultures.
And again, when the final preparation of vaccine is made, it contains little to nothing of these cells. No newer fetal cell lines are ever been used to make vaccines.
Why Fetal Human Cell Lines?
Viruses can only grow inside cells, unlike bacteria. The creation of viral vaccines requires living cells. Human viruses are best supported in a culture of human cells.
Fetal cells also have the advantage of being a sterile environment, free of any other viruses. Cells from other animals may not have this benefit, and animals are costly to maintain.
Which Vaccines Are Cultured in Human Cell Lines?
The rubella vaccine was the first to be cultured in human fetal cells. Since then, a handful of others have used these two cells lines as well.
- Rubella vaccine (MERUVAX II/Merck, part of MMR II/Merck, and ProQuad/Merck)
- Hepatitis A vaccines (VAQTA/Merck, Havrix/GlaxoSmithKline, and part of Twinrix/GlaxoSmithKline)
- Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine (Varivax/Merck, and part of ProQuad/Merck)
- Zoster (shingles) vaccine (Zostavax/Merck)
- Adenovirus Type 4 and Type 7 oral vaccine (Barr Labs)
- Rabies vaccine (IMOVAX/Sanofi Pasteur)
The Moral and Ethical Issue
Most faiths take the stance that there is a “moral obligation” to protect people from vaccine-preventable diseases. They support and promote immunizations, even when specific ingredients might otherwise be forbidden.
Vaccines are not directly contributing to the practice of abortion. In fact, vaccinations prevent thousands of miscarriages every year.
One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.
– National Catholic Bioethics Center
These babies were not aborted to make vaccines; in fact, no child has ever been aborted for vaccine production, and no aborted fetal tissue, or even tissue descended from the cell tissue of an aborted child, is in the vaccine itself.
– Dan Connors, Catholic Digest
Universal vaccination has resulted in a considerable fall in the incidence of congenital rubella, with a general incidence reduced to less than 5 cases per 100,000 livebirths.
– Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2003
You can find specifics in “Religion and vaccinations – a quick review” by Skeptical Raptor.
Paul A. Offit, MD, discusses the use of fetal cells to make vaccines, highlighting how and why fetal cells are involved in the vaccine development process and the Catholic Church’s interpretation of the use of these vaccines.
References and Further Reading
- “Vaccine Ingredients – Fetal Tissues” | The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- “Do Vaccines Contain Aborted Fetal Tissue?” | Lisa Jo Rudy | verywell
- “Vatican Statement on Vaccines Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses” | Immunization Action Coalition
- “Scientists say fetal tissue remains essential for vaccines and developing treatments” | Collin Binkley and Carla K. Johnson| Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
- “What Aborted Fetuses Have to Do With Vaccines” | Liz Neporent | ABC
- “Human Cell Strains in Vaccine Development” | History of Vaccines
- “The Truth about Vaccines: A response to our critics” | Dan Connors | Catholic Digest
- “Religion and vaccinations – a quick review” | Skeptical Raptor