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New Orleans Archdiocese Asks Catholics to Avoid Johnson & Johnson COVID Vaccine

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The Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans is asking Catholics to avoid the recently-approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which it says is “morally compromised” by its “extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.”

In a statement on Friday, the archdiocese noted that while deciding whether to receive the vaccine is an individual choice, that “the latest vaccine from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson is morally compromised as it uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine as well as the testing.”

While a number of COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers have used cells originally derived from an aborted fetus in the 1970s, the archdiocese argues that Johnson & Johnson “extensive use” is worse than that of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which used the cells lines only to test their vaccines, according to Religion News Service. This makes the “connection to abortion … extremely remote,” in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the statement argues, recommending that Catholics choose one of those instead, if provided a choice.

While the archdiocese claims the decision is in line with guidance from the Vatican, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Catholic Bioethics Center, none of the three have issued statements denouncing the new vaccine.

In December, the Vatican issued general guidelines regarding vaccines in which the Holy See said it was “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive shots that used the HEK293 cells for research. While the HEK293 cells are reportedly originated from an aborted fetus from the 1970s, ethicists have said that the cells and similar cell lines are clones and not the original fetal tissue.

The Vatican has made the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available for all Vatican City residents. Pope Francis reportedly received the shot in January.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans’ statement comes after leaders of the USCCB and leaders from other religious organizations sent a letter to the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last spring regarding ethical concerns over the COVID-19 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,” the letter read. “For example, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. has a substantial contract from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and is working on a vaccine that is being produced using one of these ethically problematic cell lines.”

However, a USCCB memo written by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, who chairs the organization’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, argued that the vaccines are moral.

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