Explained: Use Of Aborted Fetal Cells In Vaccine Production

While all vaccines do not use fetal cell lines, the fetuses whose cells are used in some vaccines were not aborted for scientific use

Social media is rife with several anti-vaccination supporters now sharing videos about the COVID-19 vaccines containing aborted fetal cells suggesting that not only can they alter the human DNA but also that children were specifically aborted to contribute to this science.

The human fetal cell lines currently in use were taken from fetuses aborted in the 1960's and 70's. These children had existing health issues and were not aborted so that their cells could be used for advancements in science.

These aborted human fetal cells are not present in the final vaccines. They are only used as a medium for growing the viruses for vaccine production.

Not all vaccines, however, use aborted fetal cells for vaccine production.

BOOM spoke to Dr. S Krishnaswamy, co-founder of Indian Scientists Response to COVID-19, and retired Professor of Bioinformatics, Madurai Kamraj University to understand the role of the human fetal cells.

"It is important to note that none of the babies were specifically aborted to obtain these cell line strains. They are all elective abortions and scientists decided to use their strains after finding some important scientific discoveries."

Furthermore, vaccines are purified to remove the traces of these human cells before actually being put to use through clinical trials. Human fetal cells are a part of the pre-clinical and vaccine production stages. After purification, it is rare to find tiny fragments of this DNA (one trillionth of a gram) in the vaccines. This amount does not affect the existing genetic composition of the person the vaccine has been administered to.

Traditional vaccine production which involves the usage of live and attenuated viruses or viral vectors for building an immune response tend to test these vaccines on human cell lines to understand the nature of the vaccine and to see if the cell is acting against the virus. These findings further assist in modifying the vaccine for clinical trials. Vaccines for rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis and rabies make use of these cell lines.

"These cells help in understanding the effectiveness of the vaccines and using these cell lines ethically approved," Dr. Krishnaswamy

From the COVID-19 vaccine frontrunners, all the vaccines following traditional routes such as using adenovirus vectors like the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate and Sputnik V Russian vaccine are using human cell lines (aborted fetal cell lines) for growth.

However, the two vaccine candidates manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer that shared about 94.5% and 95% efficacy, do not use any cell lines as they are following a new mRNA technology.

BOOM received a video on its WhatsApp helpline wherein a woman takes a package of the AstraZeneca vaccine and runs a Wikipedia search for the terms on the package. The Wikipedia search of the terms ChAdOx-1 as the vaccine was previously called has terms such as MRC-5-cells. She further opens the page of the MRC-5-cells and insinuates that the Oxford vaccine is using lung cells of an aborted fetus. She further urges Christians who are pro-life to not partake in the administration of this vaccine.

However, the claim in the video of MRC-5-cell lines is false. The AstraZeneca vaccine candidate used a different cell line called HEK 293 (Human Embryonic Kidney Cells) for design and development and production of the vaccine. HEK 293 cells taken from an aborted female fetus in Netherlands in 1972, were mixed with sheared adenovirus 5 in a lab. The cells are now stabilized. The reasons for the abortion are still unknown.

The vaccine was then purified through a gradient ultracentrifugation wherein the DNA gets fragmented and separated, the scientists wrote in Nature.

The fragments of the remaining traces do not affect humans. The Vaccine Education Center of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has explained the process in detail.

"1. When the viruses grow in cells, the cells are killed because in most cases the new viruses burst the cells to be released.

2. Once the vaccine virus is grown, it is purified, so that cellular debris and growth reagents are removed.

3. During this process of purification, any remaining cellular DNA is also broken down."

This implies that the fragmented cellular DNA which is even less than a one trillionth of a gram that is present in the vaccine does not affect the existing human cellular DNA.

Other Aborted Fetal Cell Lines

As mentioned earlier, these cell lines assist in understanding the effectiveness of the vaccine. Several Catholic leaders as well as anti-abortion groups from the US and Canada have been vociferous against the use of these aborted fetal cells even though they have been in use since decades. However, the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life issued a statement in 2017 suggesting that Catholics can take vaccines derived from aborted fetal cells if there were no other vaccines and that these fetuses were aborted in 1960's.

Cell lines is a defined population of cells that can be maintained in culture for an extended period of time which sometimes replicates repeatedly and indefinitely while retaining stability of certain traits and functions. These are generated from a single common ancestor cell. Cell lines can either be immortal or reach cell death (senescence) in a stipulated period.

While the HEK-293 is an immortal cell line, other cell lines such as MRC-5 and WI-38 used in vaccine production replicate for a stipulated period. In HEK-293, the enzyme telomerase that prevents the ends of the chromosome (telomeres) from shortening after every cell division was found in higher quantities by Frank Graham in 1973. This prevented the cell from dying and allowed for the continuous regeneration of cells. These cells double every 2-3 days.

The MRC-5-cells (the Medical Council Research Cell line 5) were derived from the fibroblast connective tissue from the lung of a 14-week-old aborted baby in 1966. These cells can only survive 42-45 population doubling cycles after which the first ancestor cell dies and the others keep replicating. Each doubling time takes about 68-72 hours.

"These cells can be saved from senescence by immortalizing them through introducing telomerase that stops the telomeres from shortening. However, since they keep replicating and doubling, there are cells even after the first one reaches senescence," Dr. Krishnaswamy explained.

The other widely used aborted fetal cell line is the Wi-38 cell line. Obtained from the lungs of a 3-month-old female fetus in the USA in 1965, these cells double every 24 hours and can survive through 50 ±10 complete population doubling cycles. These cells, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration are used by Merck in their rubella vaccines.

Updated On: 2020-11-19T13:27:45+05:30
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