SALINAS, Calif. (KION) The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is now coming under scrutiny from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops who say the doses were produced with abortion-derived cells.
For Catholics, that raises moral concerns, and the conference is now advising the faithful to pick another vaccine if the option of available.
To be clear, the USCCB and even the Diocese of Monterey are not saying that Catholics should not take the JnJ vaccine under any circumstances. They are saying if one has the option to choose what brand of vaccine they get, the Pfizer or the Moderna ones should be chosen instead.
Indoor mass returned to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Salinas a few weeks ago. For the faithful here and around the country, COVID-19 has raised questions about freedom of religion and government restrictions to prevent the spread of a pandemic.
Concerns over abortion-derived cell lines to test all three FDA authorized vaccines in the US are hitting Catholics especially close to their beliefs.
"I just feel it's sad that they have to use aborted baby cells to help other people. Scientists can use other ways to help us," said Eren Coronel, a Salinas resident who attends Sacred Heart.
The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are indeed tested using cell lines originating from fetal tissue. But now, JnJ's vaccine specifically is coming under fire from the USCCB because these same cell lines were used to develop and produce the doses.
Experts, however, say those cells are thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue.
In a statement on Tuesday, the conference said the JnJ vaccine raises "additional moral concerns." They advised Catholics that if they have the ability to choose a certain vaccine to take, to go with the two other than JnJ.
The Diocese of Monterey agrees, but they still encourage local Catholics not to hesitate getting vaccinated and point out many of the clergy have been immunized already.
"There is a preference for the Pfizer and the Moderna when you have a choice. But for practical purposes, with the supply limitations and so on, the reality is get the vaccine as soon as you can for your own good, for the good of those around you," said Deacon Hugo Patino, the chancellor for the Diocese of Monterey.
In response to the issue, JnJ sent KION the following statement:
"We are proud to bring our COVID-19 vaccine to the world and to contribute to ending this pandemic. In developing our vaccine, we have held ourselves to the highest bioethical standards and guidelines. Our single-shot COVID-19 vaccine uses an inactivated non-infective adenovirus vector – similar to a cold virus – that codes for the coronavirus “spike” (S) protein, and there is no fetal tissue in the vaccine. We are able to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses using our engineered cell-line system and look forward to delivering those doses around the world and help meet the critical need."
Health experts say it is best to take the vaccine assigned to you once you're eligible. For individual Catholics, it is a matter of conscience.
“This is a marvelous miracle that God performs in the womb of a woman that serves to heal and free other people who are possibly on the brink of death," said one Spanish-speaking woman at Sacred Heart Church.
"I won't be taking that vaccine or Moderna or Pfizer as well because they've been tested with aborted baby cells," said Coronel.
JnJ says they used the fetal cell line that it did because it is a well-studied industry standard for the production of viral vector vaccines.
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“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines," conference officials said in a statement. "Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s."
KION's Josh Kristianto will have more from the local Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey and what they have to say about the issue tonight at 5 and 6 p.m.