6 of 8 COVID-19 vaccines are unethical

By Deborah Riffenburgh Operation Warp Speed, the aptly named fast-track program to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to market in the US, promises to turn the tide in the devastation brought on by the coronavirus. But 6 of the 8 current vaccine candidates are unethical, either because they were produced using aborted fetal cells, are being tested using aborted fetal cells, or both. It’s time for the pro-life movement to stand in unity to demand an end to the abhorrent practice of commodifying pre-born human beings.


Operation Warp Speed’s stated goal is to “produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial doses available by January 2021”. The vaccine is part of a broader strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 therapeutics and diagnostics. It’s coming at a high price, and not just financial.

Ethical concerns plague Operation Warp Speed

Any time a vaccine or treatment is fast-tracked, there is risk that it will be less effective than one that goes through the years-long process of production, testing, and FDA approval. Dr. Alan Moy of the John Paul II Medical Research Institute explains:

“Since there has never been a successful vaccine produced against any infectious disease in such record time, there are real concerns whether Operation Warp Speed will deliver a safe and effective vaccine with long-term immunity that will reduce the morbidity and mortality of COVID-19 for those at greatest risk. It is my professional opinion that these vaccines pose several scientific shortcomings that will prevent them from achieving their purported healthcare objectives.”

There is also real concern about potential injury and death, not only during clinical trials, but also as the vaccine is released to the public. There are several questions people should ask before consenting to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, once distribution has begun.

Apart from the risk of injury and death, and the long and difficult legal process involved in obtaining relief, there are two other major ethical concerns related to vaccines – the actual production and testing processes used to create them. Production refers to the process used to create a therapeutic. Testing is the method used to verify the effectiveness of the therapeutic once it is developed.

Unfortunately, according to current research by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, six of the eight current Operation Warp Speed COVID-19 vaccine candidates are unethical, either because they were produced using aborted fetal cells, are being tested using aborted fetal cells, or both.

As shown on the Institute’s chart of candidates, the only candidates in Operation Warp Speed that may be ethically produced (as of Sept. 30th, 2020) are Merck/IAVI and Sanofi/GSK. The ethics of these two candidates are still in question because, while they were not produced using aborted fetal cells, there is no public information as of yet on the ethics of their testing.

Beyond the vaccine

Apart from the race to produce, test, approve, and release a vaccine for COVID-19, one of the other therapeutics Operation Warp Speed is funding is the antibody cocktail REGN-COV2, produced by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly, who received $450 million from Operation Warp Speed for their research. The REGN-COV2 cocktail has gained notoriety in recent weeks for its use in President Trump’s battle with COVID-19. President Trump credits his rapid recovery to this “gift from heaven,” and has promised to make it free to all Americans, for which taxpaying citizens would foot the bill. Human trials are now underway; one step closer to the FDA’s approval of the cocktail for public use.

REGN-COV2 is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies REGN10933 and REGN10987. One comes from a person who recovered from COVID-19, and the other is from a mouse engineered to have a human immune system. REGN-COV2 was designed specifically to block infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 by targeting a protein on the surface of the virus. During the testing process, Regeneron utilized a standardized supply of human cells called HEK 293. The origin of these cells is the kidney of an aborted child in the Netherlands in the 1970s.

The production of REGN-COV2 is, in fact, ethical, as researchers claim the humanized mice were created without the use of aborted fetal cells and the antibodies were curated in hamster cells. So the primary concern with REGN-COV2 lies in the testing, where antibodies produced inside the mice were then tested using human cells originally derived from a pre-born child who was intentionally killed.

Many people, including pro-life Christians, are defending the REGN-COV2 treatment, and others produced or tested using the original fetal cell lines, based on the amount of time that has passed since the initial abortion that produced the cells. Sarah Quale, president of Personhood Alliance Education, responds:

“Christians must not accept practices that perpetuate and encourage the relationship between abortion, biomedical science, and human trafficking, no matter when that connection was initiated or how long a practice has been socially accepted. We need to be consistent in our opposition to these therapies, and we need to stand up and demand that ethical alternatives be produced, tested, and brought to market by pharmaceutical companies and public officials.”

Commodification of pre-born humans

The trafficking in body parts of pre-born humans has occurred for decades, at the expense of taxpayers. Thanks to the work of investigative journalist David Daleiden and other pro-life advocates, America saw the grisly business first-hand. In August, 2019, the Personhood Alliance created and hand-delivered a petition with nearly 30,000 signatures to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), demanding they “immediately stop the purchase of aborted baby parts and apply all legal safeguards and ethical requirements applicable for human experimentation to protect pre-born babies whose bodies are being mutilated and trafficked.”

Shortly after, the Trump administration halted government funding to the National Institute of Health for new research conducted with human fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions, though they grandfathered in the cell lines already being used. In a bold move, the HHS also ceased funding for the University of California-San Francisco, which was using aborted fetal tissue to research HIV therapies, and promised to aim funding at ethical alternatives for future medical research.

The pro-life movement applauded this victory, and rightly so. However, when it came to the Regeneron therapy President Trump received a few weeks ago, few spoke up to clarify.

Not telling the whole story

In reaction to the news that President Trump had received a treatment that was unethical, national pro-life leaders jumped in to defend it. Many argued that President Trump’s treatment wasn’t created or produced using aborted fetal cells. While these statements were technically correct, it was the testing of the REGN-COV2 therapy that did indeed involve the destruction of human life.

From Micaiah Bilger of LifeNews:

“No, President Trump’s Regeneron therapy did not contain human embryonic stem cells.”

From Dr. Tara Sander Lee of the Charlotte Lozier Institute:

“The president was not given any medicines to treat COVID-19 that involved the destruction of human life…No human embryonic stem cells or human fetal tissue were used to produce the treatments President Trump received – period.” 

From Lila Rose of Live Action:

“To our knowledge, Regeneron was not created using aborted baby tissue.”

From Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk of The National Catholic Bioethics Center:

“Even if the cocktail of antibodies received by the president had been manufactured, not in hamster cells, but in cells derived from an abortion that happened decades earlier, it still would be ethically permissible for the president to receive that drug.”

The importance of consistency

Defending this treatment at face value is troublesome, because it legitimizes unethical therapeutics both now and in the future. In the wake of President Trump’s recovery, people are lining up for the REGN-COV2 clinical trials, some being paid up to $3,000 for their participation. Researchers and bioethicists are using this opportunity to once again call for the government to lift the federal ban on fetal tissue research. Regeneron stock has gone through the roof.

As pro-lifers, we need to be consistent. As Christians, we must uphold our principals—even in the face of a public health crisis and promised relief from it.

We must reject the notion that our health and well-being require the sacrifice of other humans, no matter when they were sacrificed. We have a duty—and the right—to demand that treatments be ethically derived and ethically tested. What better time to do that, when new therapies are in development, paid for with our tax dollars?

The good news is that there are COVID-19 vaccine candidates being ethically produced and tested outside of Operation Warp Speed, though they’re not receiving the billions that the unethical candidates are. One of them is from Dr. Alan Moy’s John Paul II Medical Research Institute.

“The Institute is one of the few research organizations around the globe that is not only developing an attenuated live vaccine approach, but it is developing new technology without using aborted fetal cells. The platform is poised to offer a definitive and rapid and inexpensive approach to create vaccines for future novel coronaviruses in which even poor countries will have access.”

In light of the current push to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible, and the growing state-level trend toward mandated vaccines with little to no moral exemptions, we can no longer ignore the unethical production and testing of vaccines and other therapeutics. For this reason, the Personhood Alliance has taken a strong stand on vaccine ethics.

The Personhood Alliance’s official position on vaccine ethics can be found here.

To learn more about how the Personhood Alliance stands consistently against all direct assaults on human life and human dignity, subscribe to our email list.

Deborah Riffenburgh is the social media coordinator for the Personhood Alliance and has been active in pro-life media for several years. But most importantly, she’s a California mom who is fighting against the lies of our culture and for the protection of every human being without exception.

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