In recent weeks Life has been contacted by several people asking about our position on Covid-19 vaccines. This statement clarifies our position on these vaccines.
The need for everyone to seriously consider being vaccinated against Covid-19
- Saving lives has always been at the heart of everything we do at Life. We therefore encourage everyone to seriously consider being vaccinated against Covid-19 when that becomes possible.
- As a charity our mission is also to speak up for the protection of human life. Although there is some degree of uncertainty about this, we hope that the vaccinations against Covid-19 will stop its transmission from person to person.
General safety of the vaccines
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been thorough in its assessment of all the vaccines presented for approval. We have no reason to believe that those vaccines which have so far been approved for use in the UK are not safe.
Recently there have been reports of a very rare condition involving blood clots and unusual bleeding after vaccination with the Astra Zeneca Vaccine. This is being carefully reviewed but the risk factors for this condition are not yet clear. Although this condition remains extremely rare there appears to be a higher risk in people shortly
after the first dose of the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine. Around 4 people develop this condition for every
million doses of AZ vaccine doses given. This is seen slightly more often in younger people and tends to occur between 4 days and 2 weeks following vaccination. This condition can also occur naturally, and
clotting problems are a common complication of COVID-19 infection. An increased risk has not
yet been seen after other COVID-19 vaccines but is being carefully monitored. At the moment the Government says it will offer only the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to under 30’s.
Public Health England has a useful table which you can click on HERE which sets out the risks and benefits of the vaccines.
Safety of the vaccines for pregnant women
- The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says it has not identified any safety concerns with pregnant women using the Covid-19 vaccines. It notes that around 90,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated, mainly with mRNA vaccines including Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, without any safety concerns being raised. The JCVI is therefore advising that it’s preferable for pregnant women in the UK to be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines where available. It however adds that there is no evidence to suggest that other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women, but more research is needed.
- Public Health England says the vaccines do not contain organisms that can multiply in the body, so they cannot infect an unborn baby in the womb.
- Since research shows that there is an increased risk of preterm birth and caesarean delivery for pregnant women with Covid-19, we think pregnant women should seriously consider getting vaccinated against Covid-19.
Safety of the vaccines for breastfeeding women
There are no data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in breastfeeding or on the breastfed baby. However The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation is still advising breastfeeding women that the vaccines can be received because they are not “thought to be a risk” to the breastfeeding baby. This is also the position of the World Health Organisation.
We will continue to monitor this situation.
Ethical considerations in the development of vaccines
There has been a lot of debate and concern about the development of some vaccines for Covid-19 which use cell lines from aborted fetuses. The Charlotte Lozier Institute has produced a helpful information table which you can view by clicking here which shows the vaccines which have been developed internationally using fetal cell lines in some way and those that have not been associated with fetal cells at all. Of particular interest is the use of HEK-293 (Human Embryonic Kidney), a cell line derived from cells taken from the kidney of a baby aborted in 1973 (it is unclear whether this was a deliberate abortion or a spontaneous abortion e.g. a miscarriage).
The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines which have been in the news recently do not contain fetal cells or fetal cell lines in them. However researchers did test these vaccines using the HEK-293 cell lines at what is called the confirmatory stage. This is unfortunate since these tests could have been avoided, as a similar vaccine, CureVac, did not use them. That said, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna will not have to continue to use fetal cell lines in ongoing production, like some of their competitors.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been the subject of controversy because of the use of HEK-293 cell lines in it’s development. We contacted the Covid-19 Vaccine Team at Oxford for clarification. They confirmed the use of HEK-293 cell lines which they described as cells cloned from original cells taken from the kidney of the aborted fetus. They pointed out that these are therefore not themselves, the cells of the aborted fetus. The team pointed us to this document, which explains that some vaccines are grown in cultures which contain human cells. The document states that after they are grown, the viruses are “purified several times to remove the cell culture material”. This makes it “unlikely that any human material remains in the final vaccine”. However we asked the vaccine team specifically if they could reassure us that the vaccines will not contain fetal cells or DNA from fetal cells. The team reassured us that:
- The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will not contain any fetal cells
- The vaccine will not contain the DNA of the fetal cell lines used.
The team explained why they were able to give this reassurance:
The specific cell line allows the growth of the viral vectored vaccine in the cell cytoplasm by providing a missing protein essential for virus replication which we removed from the virus itself. This is why, when the virus enters any other human cell except this cell line, it cannot replicate. The virus does not enter the nucleus or integrate or recombine in any way with the cell DNA both in the cell line or in vaccinees. – Dr Joanna Bagniewska, Covid-19 Vaccine Team (email communication on 3rd December 2020)
We thank the Covid-19 Vaccine Team at Oxford for their clarification.
Given all the facts above:
- Life considers that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was unethically developed and we fully understand the objections of many people to this. We are very disappointed that the vaccine was not developed using the ethical methods chosen by some vaccine developers.
- Given that the vaccine itself does not contain fetal cells or DNA from the aborted fetus, we will not object to its use by anyone if it is the only vaccine available to them in order for them to be protected and to protect others from Covid-19. We therefore believe this comes down to a matter of individual conscience.
- We believe that a genuine choice of an ethically developed vaccine should be offered to people.
In conclusion, we are committed to saving lives and our position on this issue is guided by that principle. We encourage everyone to seriously consider being vaccinated against Covid-19.