An Ethically-Produced Shingles Vaccine?
Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline may soon be able to offer a more effective shingles vaccine -- and it's produced ethically. Unlike the only other shingles vaccine available for use in the US, the new GSK vaccine, HZ/su, is not produced using cell lines derived from fetal cells. Currently, Merck holds the only license for a shingles vaccine in this country. That vaccine, Zostavax, is produced using cell lines that were grown from cells taken from a male fetus aborted at 14 weeks in the early 1960's.
The Church teaches that it is permissible to use unethically derived vaccines when no alternative is available, because using them constitutes, at most, "a form of very remote mediate material cooperation" with the evil of abortion.
The Pontifical Academy for Life says that there is "a proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favoring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children"; and that the burden imposed by unethical vaccines "cannot and must not fall on innocent children and on the health situation of the population -- especially with regard to pregnant women." In other words, vaccines are a very pro-life thing in general, and it's awful that vaccines were derived unethically, but vaccine manufacturers are the ones who have a duty to change their practices. It's not pregnant women, babies, children, the elderly, and the medically fragile who have a duty to sacrifice their lives while waiting for more ethically-produced vaccines.
Some pro-lifers claim that there are medical reasons, as well as ethical ones, to avoid the use of vaccines derived using fetal cell lines; but scientists can find no plausible biological mechanism by which derivation from fetal cell lines might "taint" vaccines.
But many pro-lifers still decline to use any vaccine that was not ethically derived, choosing instead to face the risk of contracting and spreading preventable, often fatal diseases.
Whatever is keeping Americans from taking full advantage of vaccines, this potential new shingles vaccine is a step in the right direction, and pro-lifers are rightly heartened by the possible advent of at least one ethically-derived vaccine. It's a bit early to celebrate, though. Clinical trials are not yet complete, and less than a third of new drugs typically pass all phases of clinical trial and go on to be licensed for use. Still, the vaccine itself is promising -- recent trials "demonstrated 90% overall efficacy against shingles compared to placebo" in patients age 70 and up. GSK "intends to submit a regulatory application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ... in mid-2016."
Let's enjoy a moment of measured happiness, and keep up the social and spiritual pressure on drug manufacturers, so that they understand that there is a true market for vaccines that will trouble no one's conscience.