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A health care worker received the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Soweto, South Africa, Feb. 17. U.S. bishops have said that while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has links to abortion-derived cell lines, Catholics may be inoculated with that vaccine if alternatives are not available.
A health care worker received the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Soweto, South Africa, Feb. 17. U.S. bishops have said that while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has links to abortion-derived cell lines, Catholics may be inoculated with that vaccine if alternatives are not available.
Photo Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko | Reuters

Bishops address concern over Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s abortion link

While Catholics should continue to advocate for vaccines free of links to abortion, bishops say they may receive inoculations if no alternatives are available

Editor's note: Updated March 4 with information from video statement from Bishop Rhoades


WASHINGTON — The chairmen of two U.S. bishops committees said March 2 that “while we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, made the comments in a joint statement. Bishop Rhoades also released a video statement on March 4.

Abp. Naumann
Use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, approved Feb. 27 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raises moral concerns because it was “was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines,” the chairmen of two U.S. bishops committees said.

In December, the prelates addressed concerns over what then were the newly approved BioNTech and Moderna vaccines because “an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them,” but “not used in their production.”

However, the Johnson & Johnson Janssen one-shot COVID-19 vaccine raises “additional moral concerns” because it was “developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines,” Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann said.

Bp. Rhoades
In their December statement, the bishops noted that cell lines used were derived from fetuses aborted in the 1970s.

In their March 2 statement, the bishops quoted the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which judged that “when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

“However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines,” the bishops added, “the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”

"There's no moral need to turn down a vaccine, including the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is morally acceptable to use," Bishop Rhoades said in a two-minute video posted on YouTube March 4.

"What's most important is that people get vaccinated," Bishop Rhoades continued. "It can be an act of charity that serves the common good. At the same time, as we bishops have already done, it's really important for us to encourage development of vaccines that do not use abortion-derived cell lines. This is very important for the future."

Doses of this newest vaccine — now the third approved for use in the United States, were being shipped to distribution points around the country March 2.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis released a statement on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine March 2.

According to the statement, “In regards to the AstraZeneca vaccine, Archbishop Joseph Naumann … says the ‘vaccine should be avoided if there are alternatives (like Pfizer or Moderna) available.’ This applies to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well. As some Catholics may face a situation in which they are only offered the choice of the Johnson & Johnson inoculation, this should not prevent Catholics from getting vaccinated.”

On March 1, a number of dioceses, including the New Orleans Archdiocese, Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, issued their own statements warning about the moral concern over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann reiterated in their latest statement what they stated in December: that getting a COVID-19 vaccine is an important act for the common good amid this pandemic.

The Vatican COVID-19 Commission and the Pontifical Academy for Life have said, “We believe that all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.”

More information

Statement from the Archdiocese of St. Louis: https://bit.ly/3b7wqV0

Statement from Bishop Rhoades and Archbishop Naumann: http://bit.ly/3kFJeFy

Video statement from Bishop Rhoades: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X-vA0NYCZg

Information from the Missouri bishops in the MCC Messenger: https://bit.ly/2NUupTs

“Answers to Key Ethical Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines” resources prepared by the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Secretariat: https://bit.ly/3sGUqUR.

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