Assessing the Morality of COVID-19 Vaccines Developed with Abortion-Derived Tissue: A Register Guide

Which vaccines appear to be most acceptable, in light of the U.S. bishops’ new guidance regarding vaccines that utilized abortion-derived tissues in their development and testing?

COVID vaccine vials of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson, and Gsk Inc.
COVID vaccine vials of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson, and Gsk Inc. (photo: Aldeca Studio / Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — Shortly after a new single dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson was approved for use in the U.S., Bishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans issued a statement warning the faithful that the vaccine was “morally compromised” due to its reliance on abortion-derived cells in both its development and testing, and advising Catholics that they consequently should use vaccines that are more morally acceptable vaccines if those vaccines are available. 

On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement on the matter Tuesday also cautioning against the use of the new vaccine, and informing the faithful of how to make the most ethical choice among available COVID-19 vaccines. 

Here is the full text of the bishops’ statement:

“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.

“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.[1] However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.  

“While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.

“For further details, we refer people to our earlier December 2020 statement, to our Answers to Key Ethical Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines, to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s Note, and to the statement of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Life.”


Rating Each Vaccine

The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are the only three authorized for emergency use thus far by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There are other vaccines in development for use in the U.S. as well. 

The following table using data from the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, indicates whether COVID-19 vaccines were developed or tested using abortion-derived cell lines:

COVID vaccines chart
A table of COVID vaccines currently available on the market.

COVID vaccines under development
COVID-19 under development


COVID vaccines under development
A continuation of the graph above showing COVID vaccines under development