We need to talk about the COVID vaccine.
The big news of the past week or so, is that we finally have a vaccine that promises to provide immunity to COVID-19 so that the whole world can get our lives back. Pfizer was the first drug company to get their vaccine approved, but others are close behind. This is monumental. It’s miraculous that scientists were able to develop the shots so quickly and I’m excited to see what the results of their research will be in the treatment of other viruses like AIDS now. I nearly cried when I saw the news video of the first trucks delivering the vaccine to hospitals where medical professionals will get first dibs. I’m excited to get my shot when they become available to the public in a few months.
Naturally, the next thing that happened was that some people claimed this was all an evil conspiracy. One of the most vocal of these was Abby Johnson, the former abortion clinic director turned pro-life speaker who has lately become famous for racist rants on social media and on video.
Johnson, who is not a medical professional, recorded a cell phone video of herself at a weird Dutch angle wearing false eyelashes and a pink terrycloth thermal pajama top.
“I’m here to punch a hornet’s nest. I’m about to speak about this vaccine issue and aborted babies being used, being tested in vaccines,” said Abby, adding “I am particularly interested in this because of the COVID vaccine that has been fast-tracked through the FDA. We don’t know what in the world it’s going to do to us.”
In this video she claimed without providing evidence that the vaccines had been developed using “hundreds” and “thousands” of dead children, and that human children were used as guinea pigs and injected with vaccines that have “dead children in them.” She was furious with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for claiming that a Catholic could get a COVID-19 vaccine and not be guilty of sin.
What actually happened was this: forty-eight years ago in the Netherlands, a single female baby was, tragically, aborted. That never should have happened. But when she was aborted, some of her kidney cells were extracted and used to create what’s called a “cell line.”
A “cell line” is a culture of animal cells which have been made to keep reproducing the same kind of cell indefinitely. You’ve probably seen a science demonstration in biology class or on Bill Nye, where someone takes a cotton swab of the inside of their mouth or between their toes and rubs the swab on a red petri dish of red agar, and then comes back days later to find the whole petri dish is full of bacteria or fungus. A cell line is kind of like that, only the cells that keep multiplying in the petri dish are cells taken from an animal instead of one-celled organisms like foot fungus. Biologists use cell lines to develop medicines, because then they can see how the medicines act on the human cells without having to use an actual living human. For example, a line of cells was taken from Henrietta Lacks who died of cancer in 1951, and it’s still being used to develop cancer treatments today. Henrietta Lacks is dead, but some of her cells lived a little longer than she did and were used to make a cell line in a laboratory. The name of that cell line is HeLa. The cell line that was taken from the dead baby in 1972 is known as HEK293.
HEK293 isn’t a person, and it will never be a person. It’s not a human embryo. It can’t feel pain and it doesn’t have a soul. It would not grow into a whole baby if scientists left it alone long enough. It wouldn’t even grow into a kidney if it was left alone long enough. HEK293 is a culture of kidney cells, tiny living pieces of kidney, that keeps growing and growing into bigger piles of cells so that scientists can cut some off and experiment on a few human kidney cells when they need them. The cells were originally grown from cells taken from a single child who was dead. An unborn child is not a “clump of cells” but HEK293 actually is.
The child from which HEK293 was developed should not have died. She should be alive and a late middle-aged woman today. But she was killed, and when she was killed, part of her body was used for science. It’s the same as a scientist dissecting any other cadaver for science. Imagine some kind of mad science experiment where someone took the dead body of a murder victim and planted their kidneys in a flower pot to grow a kidney tree. That’s what HEK293 is. It’s a science experiment made out of cells that are descended from the cells of a person who was already dead.
Two of the COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine developed by Pfizer and the vaccine developed by Moderna, did not use any HEK293 at all in the production of their vaccine; they only tested it on a few HEK293 cells after it was made. There are no human body parts, unborn baby or otherwise, in those vaccines, and no children were killed in order to make them. The only dead child associated with them had died almost fifty years ago. The AstraZeneca vaccine was developed using a virus grown in the kidney cells of HEK293– NOT, as has been falsely reported, made out of lung cells of a 14-week old fetus. There aren’t human cells floating in that vaccine either, they just used some HEK293 kidney cells as a medium to grow the virus they used to make the antibodies that will hopefully make you immune to COVID. Most of our bishops in the United States have stated that the vaccines’ connection to abortion is so very remote that there’s no sin in using the Pfizer and the Moderna, though they are a little more hesitant about AstraZeneca.
True, one holdout bishop has claimed that the vaccines are all morally compromised, but that bishop, like Abby Johnson, does not seem to have done any research into what the vaccines are made of and what the connection to an unborn baby is. Based on his remarks, I think he actually does imagine that they’ve really got dead human body parts in them. They don’t.
Coincidentally, the Regeneron antibody cocktail used experimentally on President Trump and some others to treat the COVID-19 virus, was also tested on HEK293 cells. It doesn’t contain fetus parts either, it was just tested using them. Regeneron has the exact same tiny level of remote cooperation with abortion as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. I wonder if Abby knows that.
As for Abby’s remarks that the vaccines have been fast-tracked so we don’t know if they’re safe, that children are being used as guinea pigs and that children were injected with the vaccines: that’s not true either. Yes, the approval for the vaccines were fast-tracked through the FDA, but that means that the people working at the FDA took much less time than usual to rubber stamp the paperwork. The bureaucratic wait was shortened. The experimentation and testing weren’t the part that was fast tracked. Those tests were done extremely carefully, and not to children. The vaccines have so far been tested on adults and a few adolescents over the age of sixteen who knew what they were doing, and that was only after the scientists were pretty sure they’d be safe anyway because of how the HEK293 cells responded in tests. Now that they’re certain it’s safe for most adults, they are beginning or hoping to begin carefully controlled trials on children in order to help the children be immune too. This isn’t a Nazi concentration camp where they inject children with poisons to see if any of them die. No one is going to inject kids with experimental substances to see what nasty things will happen. They are going to use carefully developed vaccines on a select group of healthy children with their parents’ informed consent, to see how quickly the children develop immunity so that everybody can be immune.
Remember how so many people were insisting that herd immunity is a much better way to deal with COVID-19 than social distancing? Well, this is the way to get herd immunity. We’ll have herd immunity when enough people in a population are vaccinated.
Getting a COVID vaccine as soon as it’s available to you does not mean you’re somehow responsible for the deaths of thousands of children. It means you’ve made the world just that little bit safer for all the people around you. You’ve saved lives, not taken them.
I hope that clears things up. Please don’t get your science information from Abby Johnson. There are far more entertaining videos you could be watching online right now.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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