Ethical concerns with Covid Vaccination

SCMA supports efforts to develop effective, safe and widely acceptable vaccinations especially in the fight to combat the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus commonly known as COVID-19. Safe and effective vaccination programmes are an important part of modern, excellent healthcare systems and there are there are numerous examples of this from polio to measles and smallpox vaccination programmes.

While there has been a great urgency to find safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19, vaccine development must always follow moral and ethical principles. As Catholics, we believe that one of the most important ethical principles guiding medical research is that human life is sacred from the moment of conception until natural death. It’s consequently disappointing that this ethical consideration appears to have been overlooked in the development of several COVID-19 vaccines which gained ethics committee approval despite being developed from foetal stem cell lines obtained from aborted human foetal material (and we remain hopeful that vaccines which are not developed using such ethically objectionable stem cell lines become available in future).

Whilst it is preferable to avoid using vaccines produced in ethically questionable ways, in the current situation of a global pandemic wherein the only safe and effective vaccines available are ones derived from foetal stem cell-lines, we believe that their use can be justified for the sake of the common good and with the understanding that efforts should continue to find safe and effective ethical alternatives.  Equally, we believe that vaccination programmes should not become mandatory; that informed consent remains an essential principle in modern healthcare and that individuals should continue to have the right to refuse treatments incl immunisation (however in respect to Covid19 one may wish to employ mitigating social behaviours in the context of a pandemic whilst community infection rates remain high).

For Catholics, a helpful statement on this issue was produced by the Pontifical Academy for Life and approved by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in June 2005.  Scottish Catholics should also be familiar with recent guidance on vaccines from our own Bishops Conference – ‘Light Shines in the Darkness‘ Jan 2021;


For individuals who wish to undertake covid vaccination but do so reluctantly because of the ethical issues involved with the currently licenced vaccines, we have developed two standard letters which you are welcome to use to register your ethical concerns about the vaccine(s). In the first instance, we would suggest that you consider writing to the Pharmaceutical manufacturer of the vaccine concerned which you intend to take. A second standard letter to your local Health Board has been developed for your consideration also.

STANDARD LETTER 1 – To Vaccine Manufacturer

(It is is likely that most most people in Scotland will be offered the ‘Oxford AstraZenica’ Covid vaccine –  The AstraZenica website provides a link allowing you to report concerns you may have on the AstraZenica COVID-19 vaccine.  Dr Mene Pangalos is the Head of Research and Development for the  vaccine and you can address concerns to him direct here):

Dear Dr Mene Pangalos,

I am writing to advise you that I have taken the AstraZenica vaccination for Covid-19 on …….. .

I did so appreciating that, in the current situation of a global pandemic and health crisis, vaccination against Covid-19, both as a means of protecting my own health and that of others is paramount, and I have put this consideration at the forefront of my judgement in undertaking vaccination.

As a Roman Catholic I find AstraZenica’s development of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine from the cell line HEK-293 unethical.  As you know, HEK-293 is developed from human foetal tissue derived from abortions and finding the practice of abortion abhorrent as well as unethical and contrary to human dignity, I would request that AstraZenica seek alternative sources for stems cells in future vaccine development.

I fully understand that in research and development of vaccines pharmaceutical companies need cell lines with immortal properties, and that at the present time a number of these have been developed from abortion tissues.  Nonetheless, no research can exempt itself from respecting the dignity of human beings, this includes laboratory testing and consequently for vaccines to be more acceptable in future this aspect of research needs to be addressed. Science developed even indirectly from abortion material commodifies human beings and is contrary to numerous ethical codes, especially when immortal stem cell lines from adult sources or potentially from natural death, spontaneous abortion or placental tissue origins could also be considered for stem-cell sources.

I would therefore ask you to recognise this ethical issue which is of concern to Catholics as well as people of other religious faiths and none.

Were this immunisation not so urgent, I and others may well have opted not to take-up vaccination in the light of vaccine development from HEK-293 and vaccines ought to be acceptable to everyone in the population.

Thank you for your consideration and for your ongoing efforts in favour of scientific and ethical excellence in the field of human vaccine technology.

Yours sincerely

STANDARD LETTER 2 – Possible letter to your local Healthboard

Dear Sir,

I have today received my Covid -19 immunisation, with the <most likely Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine>, and I wish to make known to X Health Board, that I received this vaccine with great reluctance because the vaccine was designed, developed and tested using the HEK-293 cell line from an aborted child . I am aware that the alternative Pfizer vaccine does not use aborted baby cell lines during the vaccine manufacture stage but that  Pfizer did use aborted foetal cell lines for confirmatory tests. 

Although I understand the importance of immunisation in combating the COVID -19 Pandemic, I find it deeply abhorrent to have had to use a vaccine developed in this way.  I am therefore writing to ask X Health Board to ensure that in future they will source ethical vaccines for patients in the Board area who are prolife. I note that the Health Board has taken steps to assure BME and religious groups that the vaccines do not contain meat products, however, the use of aborted baby cell lines is a major consideration for the Catholic community and our religious views also merit consideration.

I also request that as soon as Covid immunisations which are not tainted by abortion become available that X Health Board source these and make them available upon request to those who find the use of abortion tainted vaccines deeply distressing.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Yours sincerely,

See further example letter from a concerned GP Published in BMJ

For those wishing to delve deeper more information on vaccines and the Vatican’s position can be found here:

Further useful reading can be found here:

  1. Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines
  2. COVID-19 Advisory Groups to the Bishops
  3. Bishops issue updated statement on COVID-19 and vaccination