There are no fetal cells in vaccines
How often have we heard that line from the mouths of vaccine advocates? California’s Senator Pan entered this line into his testimony before the California Senate Health Committee. Activists within the Healthcare Civil Rights Movement hear this almost every day in response to their efforts to spread truth about vaccines. This article seeks to examine the underlying truth and omission of truth in that statement.
As you will learn by the end of this article, that statement is at best a half-truth, and a flimsy one at that. We will examine two different vaccines, Merck’s MMR II (mumps, measles and rubella), and Merck’s Varivax (varicella aka chicken pox). According to the package insert as presented on Merck’s website, both of these vaccines contain what are known as “human diploid cells”. The MMR II uses the WI-38 human diploid cell line, while Varivax uses both WI-38 and MRC-5 cell lines.
Why are human cells in vaccines?
Any vaccine contains a payload designed to train your immune system. The payload is either a live virus, or an attenuated live virus. The payload is there to give the recipient’s immune system something to attack. When the recipient’s immune system attacks the virus, it develops a certain pattern of antibodies so that it will have an immune response on file that kills the virus, should that person become infected by that virus in the future. Human Diploid cells were found by scientists to be an effective means of culturing (growing and multiplying) the virus, which is why they are used.
Origin of Human Cell Lines
The human cell lines used in the two vaccines explored in this article are known as WI-38 and MRC-5. The cells originally used to create the WI-38 cell line were taken from the lungs of a 3-month old female fetus some time during the 1960’s. This line was developed by Leonard Hayflick, at The Wistar Institute for Anatomy and Biology in Philadelphia. His discovery of the WI-38 line came after similar attempts with culturing tissue from at least 25 fetuses before arriving at the WI-38 viable cell line. The origin is no secret, as depicted on the website of the American Type Culture Collection, a biorepository/cell culturing lab that sells cell lines to scientists and industry: http://www.atcc.org/products/all/CCL-75.aspx#characteristics Similarly, the cells originally used to create the MRC-5 cell line were taken from the lungs of a 14 week old male fetus, as verified on the website of the Coriell Institute, another biorepository, that offers these cell lines for sale to scientists and industry. https://catalog.coriell.org/0/Sections/Search/Sample_Detail.aspx?Ref=AG05965-D Another perhaps interesting point with respect to the MRC-5 line, the fetus was aborted because the mother was under psychiatric care.
Application of Human Fetal Cell Lines
To ensure that vaccines are manufactured with some level of consistency, the same human diploid cells must be used in each batch. Since the lungs of a 3 month old fetus are still very small, it is easy to see they would run out eventually. This is where the biorepositories come in. They took those original cells and multiplied them to create a supply for use in science.
Truth or Deception – you decide
The cells actually used by Merck in the manufacture of the vaccine are highly unlikely, perhaps impossible to be the actual cells taken from the aborted fetuses. This is the half-truth here. But this half truth disregards the fact that the original cell cultures were harvested from a human fetus. It also is blind to the obvious fact that the cells used in manufacture would simply not exist, if not for the aborted fetuses that was their source.
Challenges of Conscience
It is of course up to each individual in a free society to determine if the source of these cell lines in vaccines is something they can accept as a matter of conscience. If someone objects to the use of these cell lines in vaccines on the basis of religious belief, they are not crazy because these cell lines would not exist if an abortion had not occurred. Another aspect of conscience here, any human cell line can only withstand 50 +/-10 divisions before the cells will cease to divide. What this means is that there is a finite supply of cells that can be produced under each human diploid cell line. When the WI-38 line is expended, the MMR II, Varivax and any other vaccine relying on that line will have to be reformulated, using a new human fetal cell sample. There is no stretch of imagination in concluding numerous fetuses will need to be examined to find the lung cells that have the desired characteristics, as Hayflick had to do in the 1960’s.
Another half-truth about vaccines containing human cells, is that the Catholic Church is not against vaccines. As one of the largest providers of health care on the planet, The Catholic Church administers human cell-containing vaccines on a routine basis. Nevertheless, The Pontifical Academy for Life issued a paper in 2006 which closes out by summarizing a few points:
there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems;
as regards the vaccines without an alternative, the need to contest so that others may be prepared must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in the meantime insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women;
the lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one’s children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women);
such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.
1. Merck MMR II Package Insert (page 1)
2. Merck Varivax Package Insert (page 6)
3. “The Serial Cultivation of Human Diploid Cell Strains”, 1961 Hayflick, Moorhead
4. “Medical research: Cell division”, 2013 Wadman, Nature, Volume 498 Issue 7455.
5. “The Limited in vitro Lifetime of Human Diploid Cell Straings”, 1964 Hayflick
6. “Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human fetuses”, 2006
also available from the National Catholic Bioethics Center