The race to find a vaccine

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | May 12, 2020

Bishops urge ethical options

Around the globe, people are practicing safeguards to prevent infection and spread of COVID-19. Staying at home, wearing masks and social distancing are among the new — and now routine — ways all of us are living our daily lives. These are all crucial measures, but they won’t end the pandemic. That will only happen with a vaccine.

Researchers around the world are working day and night to create a vaccine for the coronavirus. According to the Mayo Clinic, a vaccine can take years to develop, but because COVID-19 is part of a family of viruses, researchers have already identified potential cures. There are also challenges.

“Realistically, a vaccine will take 12 to 18 months or longer to develop and test in human clinical trials,” the Mayo Clinic stated on its website. “And we don’t know yet whether an effective vaccine is possible for this virus.”

In addition, once a vaccine is approved, more time is needed to produce, distribute and administer it. “Because people have no immunity to COVID-19, it’s likely that two vaccinations will be needed, three to four weeks apart,” Mayo explained. “People would likely start to achieve immunity to COVID-19 one to two weeks after the second vaccination.”

There are also other concerns of an ethical nature: the use of cells from aborted fetuses in the development of one potential vaccine. Four U.S. bishops added their names to a letter in April urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that “Americans will have access to vaccines that are free from any connection to abortion.”

The April 17 letter, addressed to Stephen M. Hahn, FDA commissioner, was signed by leaders of four subcommittees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Among the four was Bishop John F. Doerfler of Marquette, Mich., chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on Health Care Issues. Bishop Doerfler was ordained a priest of the Green Bay Diocese.

The letter, also signed by leaders of several health care, bioethics and pro-life organizations, urged the federal government to ensure that “fundamental moral principles are followed” in the development of vaccines.

“We are aware that, among the dozens of vaccines currently in development, some are being produced using old cell lines that were created from the cells of aborted babies,” said the letter. It cited the example of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which has a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Thankfully, other vaccines such as those being developed by Sanofi Pasteur, Inovio, and the John Paul II Medical Research Institute utilize cell lines not connected to unethical procedures and methods,” the letter continued.

The FDA commissioner was urged to “encourage and incentivize” pharmaceutical companies to use only ethical cell lines or processes in their research. “No American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience,” the letter stated.

The USCCB is encouraging Catholics to join a campaign they call “Demand a COVID-19 Vaccine Free from Abortion.” They have created an online petition that asks the Department of Health and Human Services to “ensure that Americans will have access to a vaccine that is free from any connection to abortion.”

To participate in the online campaign visit

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