Vaccines and aborted fetal tissue

October 6, 2007 | 29 comments

Subvet over at Catholic Dads recently asked if anyone has any info about vaccines that use aborted fetal tissue. I’d always assumed that this was just an urban myth and was really surprised to find that there might be some truth to it. Unfortunately, a lot of websites on the topic offer only sensationalistic coverage and it’s hard to tell if their information can be trusted. I stayed up way too late last night doing my own research and was finally able to get some clarity on the issue. I thought I’d compile the info I found into a post in case it’s useful to anyone else:

Are there modern vaccines that are made from aborted fetal tissue?
The answer to that question is good news and bad news. The good news is that there aren’t any common vaccines (none at all that I’m aware of) that need an ongoing supply of aborted fetal tissue for their creation. However, the bad news is that quite a few common vaccines are made from human diploid cell strains that originally came from an aborted baby many years ago.

This chart lists the vaccines that come from aborted fetal cell lines, as well as ethical alternatives where available. All info I came across (from both religious and government / pharmaceutical resources) indicates that the chart is accurate. Here are the stories behind each of the fetal cell lines listed on that chart:

[In the cases where the source I list is an opinion piece or blog post, the author cites a reputable source for the claims they make (e.g. medical journal, court transcript, etc.) I tried hard to get accurate information that was based on facts and not rumors or speculation.]

WI-38 was developed from the lung tissue of a Swedish baby girl who was aborted in 1962 around three months gestation. Her parents were married (and still are as far as anyone knows) but felt that they had too many children. This fetus was chosen by Dr. Sven Gard specifically for use as a vaccine culture. (source, source, source)

The story of the Rubella vaccine is a bit more grim. It involved not one, but 28 abortions. Twenty-seven to isolate the virus, and then it was cultured in WI-38 (see above). The acronym RA273 means: R=Rubella, A=Abortus, 27=27th fetus tested, 3=3rd tissue explanted. From a Catholic Education Resource Center article:

Rubella is most dangerous for preborn infants, who have a 20 to 25 percent chance of contracting congenital rubella syndrome if their mothers catch rubella during the first trimester. Scientists at the Wistar Institute took advantage of the 1964-65 rubella epidemic to legally acquire fetal tissue from at least 27 so-called therapeutic abortions conducted on women at risk for rubella. Since the live virus was not detected until the 27th abortion, the preceding 26 abortions were apparently performed on perfectly healthy babies. By contrast, Japanese researchers obtained a live virus by swabbing the throat of an infected child.

From an article in American Journal Diseases of Children (referenced here):

Explant cultures were made of the dissected organs of a particular fetus aborted because of rubella, the 27th in our series of fetuses aborted. This fetus was from a 25-year-old mother exposed to rubella 8 days after her last menstrual period. 16 days later she developed rubella. The fetus was surgically aborted 17 days after maternal illness and dissected immediately. Explants from several organs were cultured and successful cell growth was achieved from lung, skin, and kidney. It was then grown on WI-38. The new vaccine was tested on orphans in Philadelphia. [emphasis added]

MRC-5 was developed from the lung tissue of a Caucasian baby boy in the UK who was aborted at 14 weeks gestation in 1966. His mom was 27. The abortion was intentional but not done for the purposes of developing the vaccine. (source, source)

WI-26 VA4
All I could find on this one is that it’s derived from the lung tissue of an aborted Caucasian baby boy. (source)

HEK stands for “human embryonic kidney”, and the child was probably aborted around 1972. The doctor who originally worked with the fetal tissue said at an FDA meeting that “the fetus, as far as I can remember was completely normal. Nothing was wrong. The reasons for the abortion were unknown to me. I probably knew it at the time, but it got lost, all this information.” (source)

The PER.C6 line was developed in 1995 from “embryonic retinal cultures” obtained in 1985. This abortion was performed in France on a baby at 18 weeks gestation (babies at this age can stretch, yawn, rub their eyes, open their eyes and are close to being able to live outside the womb). According to an FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research meeting, “the pregnancy was completely normal” and the abortion was performed “simply because the woman wanted to get rid of the fetus”. The mother later had two healthy children at the same hospital. (source)

The doctors wanted a healthy fetus like this one because “an unborn child with medical problems, or from parents with medical problems or with a family history of medical problems, would not be acceptable as a source of material for cell lines which were to be submitted for regulatory approval.” (source)

What should Catholic parents do?
A Vatican statement on the issue says it’s very important to use ethical alternative vaccines where possible and to put pressure on the pharmaceutical industry to seek morally acceptable alternatives to all vaccines. In the cases where no ethical vaccine exists, they say:

As regards the diseases against which there are no alternative vaccines which are available and ethically acceptable, it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo significant risks to their health. However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis.

Websites with Useful Information

Hope this is helpful to others!


  1. Judy M.

    Thank you Jennifer for staying up late last night and researching this information! It is the most complete discussion I have seen on this topic. I will be referring to this frequently for use in my pro-life medical practice.

  2. Mojo

    Let me add my gratitude, as well, Jennifer. I come from a long line of people involved in prolife work and have continued that into my own adult life. I consider myself pretty well-read and informed on prolife issues, and yet I regret to admit I had NEVER heard this. Not once! I, too, appreciate the amount of time and effort you obviously spent to research and collect this post’s very informative content.

  3. Michelle

    The only thing I would add for clarity is that the most common (morally questionable) vaccines a parent will be told to give their child are the MMR (all forms), the varivax (chickenpox), and the Hepititis-A (which is pretty new in being pushed for kids). All of the other vaccines are optional or used in special circumstances.

    Also, a parent has the right to refuse the vaccines based on religious grounds.

  4. beez

    I’m glad I haven’t already eaten this morning. The “ethics” of these “scientists” frighten me.

  5. RobK

    Thanks for all the effort in pulling this together!

  6. mandamum

    The MMR is problematic only for the R=rubella portion, so a parent who would prefer to avoid this one can choose to give just Measles and Mumps instead. I’ve been told the health dept has them, but you might want a scrip from your doctor in order to have insurance cover them.

  7. Ouiz

    This is one reason why I didn’t have my children vaccinated for chickenpox.

    The other ones we had to consider very carefully… but, taking into account what the Church said about the severity/danger of the illnesses themselves, and not seeing other alternatives available, we had our kids vaccinated for the others.

  8. Abigail

    We must be on nearly the same kid vaccine schedule. This was on my “must post” list after decision making with baby Maria. Thanks for all your hard work! Now, I can just say “look to E Tu Jen!”

    I found alternatives to vaccines up until Maria turns 1. (I’m avoiding chicken pox also). The Rubella part of the MMR is a hard one!

    Rubella is the one vaccine that kids get to protect other people, i.e. pregnant women. With all the pregnant Catholic moms we hang around with, I’m having difficulty deciding against the vaccine. On the other hand, I’m really upset that the vaccine makers went to Sweden to get healthy aborted fetuses from families that had “too many children.” I don’t want to participate in something “good” that came out of giving up a child for science.

    There is an ethical MMR shot available, just not in the US. I’m praying that it will become available before Mia’s 1st birthday.

  9. Peter

    One of the main questions that concern me is whether the technical knowledge of a vaccine came from immoral research or whether this specific vaccine (ie: the one going into my child’s body) came via immoral means.

    A large part of the medical knowledge we have about hypothermia comes from the extremely cruel and heartless Nazi doctors who gradually froze people to death in their experiments. The knowledge itself is good, even if it was obtained by shockingly immoral means. Hence we can avail ourselves of such treatment without moral qualms because doing so down not implicate us in the immoral actions.

    The question I ask is this, if the production of a vaccine necessarily involved an immoral act, then I have grave concerns. If the medical knowledge was gained in some immoral fashion, but the vaccine can now be produced without immoral actions then I am free to use the vaccine.

  10. Melora

    Those BBC pictures of babies are amazing! Thank you.

  11. Jennifer F.

    Peter – good points. I’m pretty sure that the Vatican “moral reflections” I link to above addresses that.

  12. Maureen

    They make you take MMR vaccine again before you go to college. That second time (which would have been the one using the aborted kid tissue) gave me a bad reaction. (I fainted and almost lost consciousness.) Apparently it’s known for this.

  13. KaleJ

    Thanks for the summary Jennifer. Kinda scary when you consider how the Japanese obtained their sample by merely swabbing the throat.

    On that front also, we have been part of the attempt to get an un-tainted version of the Rubella okayed for use in the US. Right now there is no un-tainted rubella version in the US. Japan makes one, and COG For Life filed a class action suit to push the FDA to allow that version for use.

    It was not successful, but at about that time some of this started to leak out. That was the time when the Vatican issued that statement. So with more good people getting this info out there, the pressure will increase.

  14. stef

    Thanks so much for all your work on this, Jen! I’ve looked into this several times but I always end up confused, and I haven’t had the time to put into real research. You just saved me a bunch of legwork and analysis. Even the drs. I’ve talked to can’t tell me anything about it and some have simply dismissed it as false. Thank you again. – stef,

  15. John C. Hathaway

    Now, it is important to keep a few things in mind regarding the Vatican document, and Rubella in particular:

    1) It is morally permissible to use these vaccines *if* you are a) highly susceptible), b) in an epidemic region and/or c) forced to do so against your will.

    2) We are not in an epidemic, but if there were an epidemic to hit the US, it would be permissible to use Rubella.

    3) If a woman of child-bearing years is not vaccinated, or has never had rubella, and intends to have children, she can and should get the vaccine ASAP. There is no moral responsibility for parents to vaccinate their children just in case they meet an unexposed pregnant mom.

    This is one of the problems with the popular interpretations of the Catechism’s teachings on the fifth commandment. Many ethicists and theologians–from across the Catholic “spectrum”–talk about a “duty to protect health.”
    They take the Church’s teachings on things like good diet, exercise, not smoking, etc., and extend them to say you’r sinning if you don’t vaccinate, or if you “put someone else at risk of getting sick” (e.g., these people say it’s a mortal sin to go to mass if you have a cold).

    THere is no such obligation. We have a duty to engage in ordinary, reasonable care of our bodies or not put ourselves or others in immediate and obvious risk. There is no moral culpability involved in remote disease prevention.

  16. M. Alexander

    Didn’t all this information come from Children of God for Life or

    I’m wondering why neither you nor Domenico Bettinelli reference Debbie’s fine work? Am I missing something?
    Mary Alexander

  17. M. Alexander

    Referencing #5- a married woman should be tested for rubella immunity before automatically assuming she needs the vaccine. She may have gotten rubella and already be immune. This would save the woman from getting a vaccine that is made from the body of an aborted child.

  18. John C. Hathaway

    M. Alexander,
    My wife came across this thread the other day.
    Thanks for your reply. Yes, the basics come from Debbie Vinnedge, but a lot of it is my own reasoning or research–I’ve corresponded with the Pontifical Academy for Life directly on this issue. I link COG for Life on my blog, and I correspond with Debbie periodically. 🙂

  19. suzanna

    Thank you for your post about abortion and vaccination. I am a mother of three and only found about this two days ago. I was sick when I realized I had vaccinated my kids with the MMR, derived from a baby’s dead body. I am glad to find a voice (yours) out there telling people. I am going to provide a link to this blog on the one I wrote in my outrage. Yours is more informational, mine was just a rush of emotion at the horror of it. Thanks, and God bless you.

  20. HButler

    wow….thanks for sharing.

  21. Nicole

    As I am on the road for vaccinations for Claire – I have come back to this post several times. Thanks for collecting the info!

    She will get two vaccines tomorrow – while I am stressed about which vaccines to give or not to give for safety.. I was happy to see on your links that tomorrows vaccines do not involve aborted fetal cell lines.

    • Mindy

      Furthermore, our family has decided to be vax-free. In the early 80’s there were only a handful of vaccines recommended and our death rates from infectious diseases was just as low as it is today, but now the government is recommending damn near 40 vaccines before a child reaches the age of six. This seems terribly wrong to me. It think vaccines have their place in third world countries, but not the US. My children will continue to be vaccine free. I once thought and believed they were good, so my first child was vaccinated until the age of two. Since then, I have decided it is in my children’s best interest not to vaccinate. We live in a time where we’re blessed to have the medical resources we do, but I do not believe in the over-medicalization of this country. Vaccinations are dangerous and contain NUMEROUS KNOWN TOXINS, like formaldehyde, aluminum, aborted fetal tissue and many others. I think parents should at least wait to vaccinate until an age when the immune system can handle it, and that is NOT in babies and children under the age of six. These vaccines actually alter our DNA. That’s scary!

  22. NVE

    The moral issue of aborted stem cell lines was our first red flag with vaccinations. But I believe that the moral issue of big pharma not being held accountable to the damage they do to young children was the second red flag for us. I can understand they need protection from lawsuits that are frivolous but they are protected by law from ANY adverse affects, and this only causes them not to perfect the vaccines that we already have. And I do believe that this is a moral issue, also.

  23. Laura

    Thank you for the great thorough information. The vaccines in question are actually grown on the fetal tissue (and by default contain the tissue) There is some discussion that in the Roe vs. Wade case, doctors actually paid the woman who never even had an abortion to file the suit so that they could legally obtain fetus in the US which was cheaper than importing them (I believe she has since come out to say this is true – ) Medical money is some of the worst. 🙁 Just as children become allergic to eggs (which they therefore have to avoid) when the vaccine is grown on eggs, so do we become allergic to our own DNA by this inhuman practice of not only using fetal tissue but vaccination in general (substantiated by many prominent scientists including a retiree from Merck). A true Christian not only is against the premise of abortion and their use here, but also should trust in God to give them the life they were meant to have without this mutagenic process of vaccination. Thank you again and I hope people research this even further.

  24. Becky

    I want to point out that the Vatican statement specifically *ecourages* the use of the Rubella vaccine.

    “Moreover, we find, in such a case, a. proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children. This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles.”

    The Vatican statement does NOT say that these may be only used in case of epidemic, it says they may be used when NOT using them will encourage the spread of the disease, which is the case for ALL the vaccines recommended on the schedule. If you skip vaccines, you are not only putting your children at risk, you are also increasing the risk for all in the population, and in the case of rubella are increasing the risk for unborn babies.

  25. Jenna

    Thanks so much for compiling this information! I’ve been googling different terms for the past half hour and was yet to come up with any sites whose information seemed reputable (beyond the statement on the USCCB site) or which answered my question. But I saw your name (I follow you on twitter) and felt I could trust what you’d written.

  26. Haley

    That is absolutely sick. I almost gagged. I could never be a scientist.

  27. zygor guides

    I don’t leave a response, however I looked at a few of the remarks on Vaccines and aborted fetal tissue : Conversion Diary. I do have a couple of questions for you if it’s
    okay. Is it simply me or does it look like some of the responses look like they are written by brain dead folks?

    😛 And, if you are writing on other places, I would like
    to follow you. Would you list of all of your public sites like your
    twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?


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