Vaccine quote in story required additional context

by | Oct 5, 2021 | Journalism | 3 comments

A recent story in the Gazette-Times about a protest against the city’s regulations regarding first responders who aren’t vaccinated against the coronavirus included this quote from one of the protesters, an Albany firefighter.

“I’m here because I’m against forced vaccines. It has to do with my faith. In all these vaccines they’ve used aborted fetal cells in either the manufacturing or testing and that’s something I cannot condone based on my religion.”

Is that true? Does each dose of the COVID vaccine contain cells from aborted fetuses?

No. But the claim that fetal cells were involved has a seed of truth to it, and the G-T did a disservice to its readers by not offering additional context.

The website Nebraska Medicine does a nice job of unwrapping the science behind this, but here’s a quick summary: The vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells. But here’s the important distinction: Fetal cell lines — cells grown in a laboratory based on aborted fetal cells collected generations ago — were used in testing during research and development of the mRNA vaccines (both the Pfizer and the Moderna are mRNA vaccines) and during production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If you’ve read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” you have an idea of how important these cell lines can be to science. In the case of the COVID vaccines, the cells in question were grown from cells that came from two abortions in The Netherlands, one in 1975 and the other one in 1983.

The Vatican — obviously, no fan of abortion — has weighed in on this issue, saying that in the absence of alternatives, it’s morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines developed or tested using cell lines originating from aborted fetuses.

For additional background, here’s a story on the issue from NPR and here’s another one from The New York Times. The Times story explains how former President Trump’s COVID treatments were derived from fetal cell lines.

The G-T story should have taken just a little extra time to lay out more of this essential context on this important issue.


  1. Charlie Fautin

    Thanks for making these important points Mike.
    As you know better than most, there are seldom two sides to any story – there is almost always background, nuance and perspective.
    Public safety personnel along with virtually all medical staff and many, many others have fallen under a federal (OSHA) requirement for hepatitis B vaccination since the early 1990’s. Law enforcement, military and all people seeking a driver’s license are required to undergo vision testing, and wear corrective lenses if they don’t meet a certain threshold. Courts have long found it legal and constitutional for all drivers, and many professions to require involuntary blood testing for alcohol and drugs under certain circumstances.
    HIPAA has no applicability in those circumstances and there is little limitation on employer or government access to that information when used according to well-tested and well-accepted standards.

    • Michele Griffin-Campione

      Thank you, Mike, for sharing at least a portion of the rest of the story. I had no idea this was a rationale for anti-vaxers. If these cell lines have been used since the 70s, it goes without saying, although here I go, that the chances are high we have benfitted from this research before COVID-19, and will continue to do so in the future.


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