By Robin Pennell

Times Bulletin

How was the COVID-19 vaccine made and tested?

The fight over mandated COVID-19 vaccines rages on. Why do people choose to fight the mandate? Besides giving up one’s right to choose what goes in the body, many people have cited religious reasons. The link between the vaccines and human fetal cells has caused quite a stir in religious communities. What exactly is that link?

According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (, vaccines such as chickenpox, rubella, rabies, and some of the COVID-19 vaccines, and drugs such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen, have all been made by testing them in fetal cells. All of them, except for COVID-19, were made by growing them in fibroblast cells, while the COVID-19 vaccine was tested in fetal retinal cells.

Fetal cells were originally used for testing because they are specifically human. Cells from other animals do not handle a human virus in the same way human ones do. Fetal cells can also be used longer than adult cells because they can be divided more times without dying. Most cell lines can only divide about 50 times before they die out. So, scientists determined that the best cells to use were the fetal cells isolated and preserved at low temperatures.

A report by the Oregon Health Authority states that the two vaccines first available in the fight against COVID-19 were not produced using fetal cells, meaning that no fetal cells are in the injection that people receive. These vaccines that do not use fetal cells are the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

However, viruses need living cells to grow in so scientists developed cell lines that reproduce themselves indefinitely in the laboratory. These cells come from a fetal cell line that is decades old. The developed vaccines were introduced into the fetal cells to see if the vaccine worked as intended. And it did. Tests showed that the messenger RNA vaccine produced the protein that helps us develop immunity against COVID-19.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does require the use of a fetal cell line, in this case, a retinal cell line isolated from an elected termination of a fetus in 1985 specifically to use in growing adenovirus-based vaccines back in the 1990s. Vaccine production does not rely on newly acquired fetus cells since the cells from 1985 have been kept in liquid nitrogen and are reproducible in the laboratory.

Vaccines grown from fetal cells don’t have the original cell DNA in them. The virus kills the cell as it breaks free from it. The vaccine is then purified from the debris, reagents, and cell DNA used to grow it before it is bottled and given to patients.

In an article from the National Geographic dated November 19, 2021, Amesh Adalja, an expert at Johns Hopkins was quoted, “So many people don’t realize how important fetal cell lines are to develop life-saving medicines and vaccines that they rely on eery day. Their use in developing COVID-19 vaccines isn’t anything different or special.”

The science behind the vaccine is informing many religious leaders and influencing their recommendations. On December 11, 2020, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced, “In view of the gravity of the current pandemic and the lack of availability of alternative vaccines, the reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are sufficiently serious to justify their use, despite their remote connection to morally compromised cell lines.” If there are not alternatives available, if there is not choice without a delay in vaccines, accepting the vaccine is “an act of charity toward the other members of our community.” Otherwise, when uncompromised vaccines are available, they should be requested by people of the Catholic faith.

Other faiths have encouraged their congregations to participate in the vaccine. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saits said in order “to be good global citizens and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization.” In a joint editorial, Walter Kim, National Association of Evangelicals, and Rabbi Moshe Hauer, Orthodox Union, said that their leaders are giving strong encouragement for their members to participate in the vaccine program.

In an Associated Press article, Reverend Jeffress of the First Baptist Dallas said, “there is no credible religious argument” against using the COVID-19 vaccine. He told the AP in an email, “Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same line if they are sincere in their objection.”

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses website, they “seek quality medical care and appreciate the many advancements of medical science to reduce the risk of serious illness. We are grateful for the commitment and dedication of health-care professionals, especially in times of crises.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses cooperate with public health officials. For example, since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Jehovah’s Witnesses have continued to publish reminders in hundreds of languages on this website, encouraging adherence to local safety guidelines. These include the importance of physical distancing and of following regulations on public gatherings, quarantining, hand washing, and the wearing of face coverings as well as other practical measures required or recommended by the authorities.—Romans 13:1, 2.”

Modern vaccines require testing on live human cells and study to ensure that vaccines fulfill their purpose. The tested cells are not passed into the bodies of patients as some reports state. Newly aborted fetus cells are not being used in vaccine testing. Researching how vaccines are made and tested will help consumers better decide if vaccines are safe and legitimate sources of medical assistance. Seeking out the opinions of faith leaders will also help consumers decide if their conscious can be burden-free when taking the vaccines, or any other drug, for that matter.