Do Vaccines Contain Aborted Fetal Tissue?

A syringe being injected into a vial
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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:

Why Fetal Cells Were Originally Used in the Production of Some Vaccines

Fetal cells were originally used because viruses tend to grow better in cells from humans than from animals. 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 over the use of fetal cells for vaccine development may be so for a variety of reasons, some of which may relate to 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 and recognized that "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 ... 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 1960’s."

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 two to three 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 Kingdom and the United States, some parents who have chosen not to vaccinate have seen their children develop measles. Measles is a very contagious and potentially dangerous disease that had, until recently, been all but eradicated in technologically advanced countries—due to vaccinations.

Those concerned about the use of aborted fetuses in the development of vaccinations support alternative vaccines that have been prepared using animal (as opposed to human) tissues and cells. In some cases, such alternative vaccinations are already available.

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

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Article Sources

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  1. Congressional Research Service. Human Fetal Tissue Research: Frequently Asked Questions. Updated August 8, 2019

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

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

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

  5. Criscuolo E, Caputo V, Diotti RA, Sautto GA, Kirchenbaum GA, Clementi N. Alternative methods of vaccine delivery: an overview of edible and intradermal vaccines. J Immunol Res. 2019. doi:2019/8303648

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