Sydney, August 25, 2020
In a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, several hierarchs of Christian denominations in Australia, including Greek Orthodox Archbishop Makarios, have voiced their objection to a possible COVID vaccine being developed at Oxford University.
On August 19, the Australian government announced an agreement with the UK-based AstraZeneca drug company to purchase 25 million doses of the vaccine once its ready.
However, the vaccine is being developed from a kidney cell line (HEK-293) taken from an aborted fetus, which presents an ethical dilemma for the Christian faithful, the hierarchs write.
While the hierarchs support a vaccine in principle, harvesting “foetal tissue was deeply immoral,” they write. However, the Australian government has been quick to downplay the religious concern.
The hierarchs’ full letter has been published by the Greek outlet Neos Kosmos.
“Along with many Australians we are praying that a vaccine might be developed that will help bring an end to the pandemic,” the Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican prelates write. “We were therefore disappointed to learn that … the Commonwealth has chosen to throw its lot in with one [candidate vaccine] that makes use of a cell-line (HEK293) cultured from an electively aborted human foetus.”
The hierarchs are concerned that such a vaccine will be mandatory, or that at the least there will be “enormous social and political pressure upon people to use it.”
While some may have no ethical issue with such a vaccine, others “will be concerned not to benefit in any way from the death of the little girl whose cells were taken and cultivated, nor to be trivialising that death, and not to be encouraging the foetal tissue industry.”
Those who conscientiously object will suffer various disadvantages, Abp. Makarios and the other hierarchs worry, “e.g. denial of access to childcare, aged care or employment.”
Given that other vaccine trials are underway that do not involve such “morally compromised human cell lines,” the hierarchs ask the PM to guarantee that the use of the Oxford vaccine will not be mandatory, that no one will be pressured to use the vaccine against their religious or moral beliefs or disadvantaged for failing to do so, and that the government will provide an “ethically uncontroversial alternative vaccine.”
However, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nick Coatsworth is seeking to assure the public that there are no moral issues with the vaccine. The Guardian quotes him: “There are strong ethical regulations surrounding the use of any human cell, particularly fetal human cells. This is a very professional, highly powered research unit at Oxford University, one of the world’s leading universities, so I think we can have every faith that the way they have manufactured the vaccine has been against the highest of ethical standards internationally.”
Meanwhile, Nobel laureate and immunologist Peter Doherty has spoken more directly. “It’s an established cell line being used in lots of applications,” he said.
“If [Catholic Archbishop Fisher] finds that objectionable it’s his perfect right to say so and it’s our perfect right to take absolutely no notice of him,” he said.