Do Vaccines Contain Aborted Fetal Tissue?

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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. With the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine (Johnson & Johnson), vaccine development relied on cells from a fetus aborted in 1985. The topic is controversial because of where the original cells came from.

This article will help you 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 of Using Aborted Fetal Tissue in Vaccines

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 decades ago.

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

Which Vaccines Incorporate Aborted Fetal Tissues?

Vaccines that are developed from the cell lines of aborted fetal tissue include:

In some cases, alternative vaccines may be available, as is the case with the mRNA-based Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, or the RabAvert rabies vaccine cultivated from chicken fibroblasts.

Your healthcare provider can help if you want to learn more about the alternatives or have specific concerns.

Fetal Tissue and COVID-19 Vaccines

Neither the Moderna nor Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines were produced using fetal cell lines.The Janssen vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson, was developed while using fetal tissue from 1985, but no new abortion procedures were involved. Researchers were using at least two cell lines from human fetal tissue aborted years ago (in 1972 and 1985) while working on six possible COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccines, Aborted Fetal Tissue and Your DNA

One vaccine myth that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic was the concern that the mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer products) could change your DNA once it entered the cells in your body.

Yet there is no risk of that occurring with these vaccines.The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine does deliver DNA to your cells but it comes from the virus itself.Neither vaccines nor aborted fetal tissue used to develop them in the laboratory can alter your DNA.

Further, there ultimately is no aborted fetal tissue in vaccines because of the purification and manufacturing process of the product.

Fibroblasts and Vaccines

Fibroblasts are cells that build the structure of human tissue throughout the body. They are often used in research. 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.


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 past decades.

The cells continue to grow in a laboratory and are still used to create some vaccines today, including the common MMR vaccine and the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.

If you have concerns about any recommended vaccine, your healthcare provider can help you to learn more about what's inside the vaccine. They also provide information about alternative vaccines created from animal cells instead of human cells for people who have ethical or religious concerns.

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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.
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  2. Wadman, M. Vaccines that use human fetal cells draw fire. Science. 368,1170-1171(2020). doi:10.1126/science.368.6496.1170

  3. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Fetal Cells and Vaccines — Common Questions Answered.

  4. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at CDC. Ask the Experts.

  5. GlaxoSmithKline. Package insert - RabAvert.

  6. 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

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. COVID-19 Vaccines: Myth Versus Fact.

  8. Nebraska Medicine. How the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine works.

  9. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. Package insert.

Additional Reading

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.