Do Vaccines Contain Aborted Fetal Tissue?

Several common vaccines are made by growing the necessary viruses in fetal embryo fibroblast cells. These cells originally came from tissue obtained from two fetuses that were legally and electively aborted in the early 1960s.

The same cells have continued to grow in a laboratory and are still used to make vaccines today. No additional fetal cells have been harvested since then, but the topic is controversial because of the original source.

The vaccines that grow in these fetal cells include:

In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an oral adenovirus vaccine derived from human fetal embryo fibroblasts for use in military populations only.

What to Know About Vaccines and Fetal Tissue
Nusha Ashjaee / Verywell


Fetal cells were originally used because viruses tend to grow better in human cells than animal cells. Fetal cells do not divide as many times as other cell types, so they can be used for longer.

In addition, because of the ability to maintain these cells at very low temperatures, such as in liquid nitrogen, scientists are able to continue using the same fetal cell lines that were originally isolated in the 1960s.

Vaccine manufacturers obtain human cell lines from FDA-certified cell banks. After processing, very little, if any, of that tissue, remains in the vaccine.

Concerns and Considerations

Those concerned about the use of fetal cells for vaccine development may be so for a variety of reasons, including religious convictions and personal ethics.

The Vatican has taken a stand on the issue. In 2017, the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life said that lack of vaccinations represents a serious health risk.

They stated, "In the past, vaccines had been prepared using cells from aborted human fetuses, however currently used cell lines are very distant from the original it is no longer necessary to obtain cells from new voluntary abortions, and that the cell lines on which the vaccines are based in are derived solely from two fetuses originally aborted in the 1960s."

Indeed, the role of preventing deaths from these diseases has proven to be a significant one. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), immunizations prevent 2 to 3 million deaths worldwide every year, and 1.5 million more could be avoided if more people are vaccinated.

This highlights the dangers posed to children by avoiding vaccines, which must also be considered. In the United States, some parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their children have seen them develop measles.

Measles is a very contagious and potentially dangerous disease that had, until recently, been all but eliminated in technologically advanced countries—due to vaccinations.

Despite claims to the contrary, neither the Moderna nor Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines utilized fetal cell lines in their development.


Those concerned about the use of aborted fetuses in the development of vaccinations can turn to alternative vaccines that have been prepared using animal (as opposed to human) tissues and cells.

In some cases, alternative vaccines may be available, such as the RabAvert rabies vaccine cultivated from chicken fibroblasts.

If you want to learn more about the alternatives or have specific concerns, contact your pediatrician for further information.

Vaccines Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Mom and Baby
Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Congressional Research Service. Human Fetal Tissue Research: Frequently Asked Questions. Updated August 8, 2019

  2. Sanofi Pasteur Inc. Package insert- Imovax. Updated October 2019.

  3. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. Package insert. Updated October 2019.

  4. Potifical Academy for Life. Note on Italian vaccine issue. Updated July 21, 2017.

  5. World Health Organization. Immunization. Updated July 18, 2019.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles Cases and Outbreaks. May 3, 2021.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles elimination. Last reviewed October 4, 2019

  8. Preet Kaur S, Gupta V. COVID-19 vaccine: A comprehensive status report. Virus Res. 2020 Oct 15;288:198114. doi:10.1016/j.virusres.2020.198114

  9. GlaxoSmithKline. Package insert - RabAvert. Updated 2018.

Additional Reading