Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71(1) February 2021


So which vaccine should I take?

Adrian Treloar

AuthorMany people [1-5] (including myself [1]) have written about the ethics of foetal cells in vaccines. All reach the same conclusion. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clearly said in 2008 [3], where there is no suitable and effective alternative not based on foetal cell lines, it is licit to use vaccine made using foetal cell lines. But we should ask that new vaccines are not manufactured using such cell lines. In December 2020, the CDF restated that position specifically with regard to Covid vaccines.[6]

In many ways we may be disappointed that these cells lines are still used, but as Fr Jarmulowicz ably pointed out [6] there are many such cell lines and they are established technologies which have already been used in many vaccines. For the time being they appear to be the first port of call in a crisis.

Contrary to the long established view of the Catholic Church, as set out by the Pontifical Academy for Life under the then Cardinal Ratzinger, five bishops wrote in late 2020 that “it is in all cases immoral to allow oneself to be vaccinated with any vaccine which has been tainted by the use of fetal cell lines.”[7] This minority statement was written by the Bishop Athanasius Schneider, an auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, along with two other bishops and two more retired Bishops. Widely promoted by Life-site News, many will have read their document. Sadly, on this occasion, those five bishops have, I believe, got it wrong. By their words, they risk causing the unnecessary deaths of innocent faithful people.

Anti-vaxxers too, have been vocal in their criticism of the vaccines.

Of course, the statement noted above [7] is contradicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [3] along with very many Bishops and others including Pope Francis.

So what do we do with the frail, 90 year old faithful, Catholic lady who is at high risk of dying from the virus? Without the vaccination she may well face a death that can be avoided by vaccine. It cannot be pro-life to deny effective care to a vulnerable 90 year old.

If we accept that the vaccine is effective, that the disease is especially deadly for old and frail people, and that the use of vaccines linked to aborted foetal cell lines is not illicit (as has long been the established view of the Church), then we should urgently promote vaccination.

The solution appears therefore to be simple. The faithful can (and perhaps should) as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith[3] suggested in 2008 ask to be vaccinated using the vaccine with the least use of foetal cells. In the UK, today, that suggests the Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna vaccines appear to be the preferred options.

BUT: we know that there are not enough doses of that vaccine to go round, and that vaccine has a far more difficult cold chain requirement than the alternative Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It needs to be transported at -70C and must be used rapidly after it has been defrosted. So in many settings, and especially during a pandemic crisis, the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine will also be licit. For example, it appears that vaccinating care home residents will be far easier to achieve with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine than the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. That is due to the cold chain issue.

The faithful can (and perhaps should) as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [3] suggested in 2008, ask to be vaccinated using the vaccine with the least use of foetal cells. In the UK, today, that suggests the Pfizer-BioNtech or Moderna vaccines appear to be the preferred options.
But in many settings, and especially during this pandemic crisis, both the Pfizer-BioNtech and the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccines will be licit

Some will dislike that conclusion and reject it on the grounds that it is un-Catholic. But the aborted child who was used to produce those cells was killed 50 years or more ago. And this is very remote cooperation indeed. The 90 year old lady in Church had NOTHING to do with that abortion. We should not ask her to risk her life to protest about the abortion so many years ago.

The fight for life cannot and must not be fought by risking the lives of vulnerable and frail people. We must be humble and patient. It is too easy to place burdens upon the faithful. And if those burdens put innocent people’s lives at risk, that is surely wrong.

Pope Francis has declared 2021 the year of St Joseph. Let us pray to St Joseph to pray for us all, and ask St Joseph to help bring this pandemic to an end.

St Joseph, Pillar of families,        pray for us
St Joseph, Hope of the sick,        pray for us
St Joseph, Patron of the dying,  pray for us
St Joseph, Terror of demons,     pray for us
St Joseph, Protector of Holy Church, pray for us


  1. Treloar A, (2019) Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccines: the ethics and the need for an alternative vaccine. Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 69(3): August 2019
  2. Catholic Medical Association (UK) Ethics Committee statement in relation to Covid-19 Vaccine Production, 22nd November 2020. Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 71 (1) February. Page 13
  3. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction Dignitas Personae on certain Bioethical Questions.. Published Vatican 8th September 2008.
  4. Prentice D (2020) Update: COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates and Abortion-Derived Cell Lines. David Prentice, Ph.D. Charlotte Lozier Institute
  5. Anscombe Centre COVID-19 Briefing Paper 2, 27 April 2020
  6. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (2020 Dec). Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines.
  7. Jarmulowicz Rev M. (2020) Vaccine Cell Lines – Their history and basic information. Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 70 (4) November. Page 11-14
  8. Lifesite News. Dec 11th 2020. On the moral illicitness of the use of vaccines made from cells derived from aborted human fetuses.