Citing ethical concerns about the use of embryonic stem cells in vaccine development, Bishop Joseph Brennan of the Diocese of Fresno is urging Catholics not to “jump on the COVID-19 vaccine bandwagon.”
“I try to maintain a joyful spirit, so I don’t like to rain on anyone’s parade,” Brennan said. “But I’m going to rain on a parade today: the vaccine parade.”
In his message, Brennan said the use of embryonic stem cells at any stage of a vaccine’s development means Catholics cannot avail themselves of its scientific results.
“I won’t be able to take a vaccine, brothers and sisters, and I encourage you not to, if it was developed with material from stem cells that were derived from a baby that was aborted, or material that was cast off from artificial insemination of a human embryo,” he said. “That’s morally unacceptable for us.”
Brennan said he is not opposed to vaccines in general, and noted that he has received vaccines for the flu and pneumonia, but said he is specifically opposed to vaccines derived from babies “whose lives were taken.”
Pfizer spokeswoman Jerica Pitts said Thursday the company has not used stem cells in its COVID-19 vaccine program.
“Not a single stage has had it,” she said.
Representatives for Moderna did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Both vaccine candidates are made with a snippet of the coronavirus’ genetic code, and both are estimated to be roughly 95% effective. U.S. officials have said they hope to have about 300 million doses of effective vaccines available for distribution by January.
But Brennan joins a growing chorus of Catholic organizations concerned about stem cells and COVID-19 vaccines. In April, more than 20 Catholic leaders and prominent members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops signed a letter to the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration urging the federal government to follow “moral principles” in the development of a coronavirus vaccine.
“It is critically important that Americans have access to a vaccine that is produced ethically,” they wrote. “No American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience.”
In July, the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center shared a statement in which President Joseph Meany described the potential reliance on a stem cell-developed vaccine as a “nightmare scenario” that would “cause major conscience problems for pro-lifers and Catholics.”
Meany went on to say that he is confident that researchers can develop a vaccine for the virus without making use of such cells, something Brennan stated as well.
“Thank goodness there are some that are being developed … that have no connection at all with any of that material,” Brennan said. “I don’t want to cause anyone pain. I don’t want to cause anyone to be less hopeful than they normally would be about coming to grips with this terrible pandemic.”
But his words come amid an alarming nationwide surge of COVID-19. More than a million new cases were recorded last week alone, and California is currently sustaining its highest-ever counts for daily cases, surpassing 10,000 new daily cases four times in the last week and recording a single-day high of more than 5,000 new cases on Thursday.
Neither Meany, Brennan nor the chancellor of the Fresno Diocese responded to requests for comment.