I have many close friends who, unfortunately, have fallen into the pit of anti-vaccine propaganda. In addition to believing medical conspiracy theories popularized by the internet– namely, that vaccines cause autism and autoimmune disease– many also claim to avoid vaccines because the shots contain aborted fetal tissue. This idea, like the others, isn’t rooted in reality and is, at its core, a conspiracy theory. Vaccines do not, and have never, contained tissue from aborted human fetuses.
Why there is no fetal tissue in a vaccine
The human body is amazingly talented at identifying foreign bodies. That’s why, if you were to receive a blood transfusion from someone whose blood type didn’t match your own, you could easily die from the complications. In the same way, if you were given an injection of the tissue of an aborted fetus, your body would instantly recognize it as something that shouldn’t be in your body and would attack it. The goal of a vaccine is to get your body to respond to trace amounts of a killed or weakened virus or bacterium, not to get you to respond to the cells of a long-dead fetus, so any vaccine containing fetal tissue would be pointless, dangerous, and possibly even counterproductive.
The grain of truth
Like many anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, the idea of aborted fetuses being used to manufacture vaccines came from a tiny grain of truth that was later blown far out of proportion and was widely misreported and misrepresented. In the early 1960s, over a half-century ago, two women chose to terminate pregnancies and consented for the tissue, which would have otherwise been discarded as medical waste, to be used in science and medicine. In both cases, the pregnancies would have been terminated regardless of whether or not scientists would have a use for the aborted fetal tissue. No pregnancies have ever been terminated for use in vaccines, and new fetal cells haven’t been used in vaccines in over 50 years.
How fetal tissue is used in vaccine production
Although no tissue from human fetuses are found in vaccines themselves, a few vaccines are cultivated inside cultured cells that originally came from aborted fetuses. The fetuses’ fibroblast cells (which hold skin and connective tissues together) were used to grow certain viruses in a laboratory environment. When possible, scientists have used non-human embryonic cells for these purposes, but viruses that affect only humans can sometimes grow only in human cells. The only vaccines that have been cultured in human fetal tissue are chickenpox, shingles, hepatitis A, and rubella (which is in the MMR, or measles-mumps-rubella, vaccine). However, again, these are viruses grown in cells collected from two fetuses, and they do not contain actual fetal tissue.
Why it shouldn’t make a difference
Even if you are morally opposed to abortion, that is not a reason to avoid vaccines. If you believe that abortion is an act of murder, that does not justify the avoidance of life-saving medical care for yourself or your children. I would graciously accept an organ donation from a murder victim if it meant saving my children’s lives, even though I would in no way condone the act that led to the donor’s death. In the same way, parents who oppose abortion can support vaccines while still holding true to their own values. Even the Vatican, while supporting the pursuit of other methods of culturing vaccines, agrees that vaccination is of paramount moral importance. Moral opposition to abortion shouldn’t influence your decision to protect yourself and your family through vaccination.
Want more information so you can make an informed choice? Touch base with your own doctor and pay a visit to the CDC’s vaccine information website for further clarification about the use of fetal tissue in vaccine production.