Archdiocese of New Orleans says Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine is 'morally compromised'

A researcher works on a vaccine against the new coronavirus COVID-19 at the Copenhagen's University research lab in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 23, 2020.
A researcher works on a vaccine against the new coronavirus COVID-19 at the Copenhagen's University research lab in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 23, 2020. | AFP via Getty Images/Thibault Savary

A Roman Catholic diocese is urging the faithful to refrain from taking one of the available coronavirus vaccines due to its use of aborted fetal cells in production and testing.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans released a statement Friday expressing concern about the latest coronavirus vaccine granted approval for use in the United States, which was manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. The statement began by acknowledging that coronavirus vaccines have used "morally compromised cell lines created from two abortions that occurred, one in the 1970s and one in the 1980s."

"The Archdiocese of New Orleans, in light of guidance from the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and The National Catholic Bioethics Center affirm that though there was some lab testing that utilized the abortion-derived cell line, the two vaccines currently available from Pfizer and Moderna do not rely on cell lines from abortions in the manufacturing process and therefore can be morally acceptable for Catholics as the connection to abortion is extremely remote," the statement continued.

Citing the same guidance, the archdiocese maintained that it "must instruct Catholics that the latest vaccine from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson is morally compromised as it uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine as well as the testing."

"We advise that if the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than to receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines."

The Archdiocese of New Orleans' statement came as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee unanimously recommended that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine receive an Emergency Use Authorization Friday.

On Saturday, the company reported that the FDA issued the Emergency Use Authorization, clearing the way for the vaccine to be administered in the U.S. Unlike the vaccines created by Moderna and Pfizer, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-shot vaccine. 

Johnson & Johnson announced that it was planning on shipping enough doses of the vaccine so that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by the end of March. The manufacturer aims to have delivered 100 million doses of the shot by the middle of 2021.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans' statement is not the first time that leaders in the Catholic Church have issued a statement urging Catholics to refrain from taking a specific coronavirus vaccine. In December, bishops from Colorado's three Roman Catholic dioceses issued a similar statement characterizing the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as "morally acceptable" while arguing that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was tainted.

"Vaccines such as AstraZeneca-Oxford use aborted fetal lines in design, development, production, and testing, and therefore are not a morally valid option because better options are available," the bishops wrote in a letter. At the time the letter was written, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had not been approved for an Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA and still has not to this today. 

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, has put together a comprehensive table featuring data about all of the coronavirus vaccine candidates, including those that have yet to enter clinical trials. The table, updated on Jan. 4, notes whether abortion-derived cell lines were used in the design and development or production of the vaccine and if the cell lines were used in confirmatory lab tests.

Along with the Johnson & Johnson and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, a coronavirus vaccine manufactured by the Gamaleya Research Institute, which has entered phase 3 of clinical trials and has been granted early approval in Russia, uses an abortion-derived cell line in design and development, production and confirmatory lab tests.

Meanwhile, vaccines manufactured by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Research, which are in phase 3 clinic trials and have been granted early approval in China or India, do not use abortion-derived cell lines at any point during confirmatory lab testing, design and development or production.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, more than 96 million doses of the coronavirus vaccines have been delivered in the U.S. as of Monday, while nearly 51 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose. An additional 25 million Americans have received both doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. 

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