Do Vaccines Contain Aborted Fetal Tissue?

Several common vaccines are made by growing viruses in fetal embryo cells. These cells originally came from tissue obtained from two fetuses that were legally 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 cells have been harvested from aborted fetuses since then, but the topic is controversial because of where the original cells came from.

The vaccines that grow in these fetal cells include:

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an oral adenovirus vaccine made from human fetal embryo fibroblasts for use in military populations only. Fibroblasts are the main type of cell in connective tissue, and they produce proteins that give tissues structure.

Keep reading to learn more about vaccines and whether or not they contain aborted fetal tissue. You will also learn about alternatives to traditional vaccines.

What to Know About Vaccines and Fetal Tissue

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

History

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 it's possible to keep 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 created 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

People may be concerned about the use of fetal cells for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Religious convictions
  • 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 abortions...it should be noted that today 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."

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 additional people are vaccinated.

This highlights how dangerous it is for children to not get vaccinated. In the United States, some unvaccinated children have developed measles in recent years.

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

Despite what some people have claimed, neither the Moderna nor Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines were produced using fetal cell lines.

Alternatives to Traditional Vaccinations

Those concerned about the use of aborted fetuses in the development of vaccinations can turn to alternative vaccines that have been prepared using animal (instead of 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.

Summary

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

The cells continue to grow in a laboratory and are still used to create some vaccines today. Since the 1960s, no additional fetal cells have been harvested to use in the creation of vaccines.

People who are opposed to vaccines because of religious reasons or personal ethics can get alternative vaccines made from animal cells instead of human cells.

A Word From Verywell

If you have concerns about any vaccination recommended by your doctor, talk to them about it. Your doctor can help you learn more about what's inside the vaccine. Doctors can also provide you with information about alternative vaccines created from animal cells instead of human cells.

Vaccines Doctor Discussion Guide

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

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9 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. Updated July 9, 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.

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