They say Catholics who have the ability to choose a vaccine should choose Pfizer or Moderna over Johnson & Johnson.By Meghan Schiller

PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh says it agrees with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which raised moral concerns over the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because it’s produced using a cell line derived from an aborted fetus.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in labeling the newest vaccine “morally compromised,” and the Diocese says it agrees.

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The Diocese is recommending Pittsburgh Catholics not choose the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if they have a choice. They say Catholics who have the ability to choose a vaccine should choose Pfizer or Moderna over Johnson & Johnson.

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“I don’t want to see Catholics die because they don’t take this vaccine because they’re listening to their priests or their bishops or the Pope. This is just as absurd as listening to a real estate developer to get medical advice,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja.

Dr. Adalja called it “mindboggling.”

“They run the risk of doing a lot of damage if they undermine people’s confidence or willingness to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” said Dr. Adalja.

While not disputing the church officials’ contention that an abortion-derived cell line is used in the production, Johnson & Johnson issued a statement Tuesday stressing that there is no fetal tissue in its vaccine.

Adalja says the fetal cell line did originate from an aborted fetus.

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“And that cell line has been propagated or continued and it’s used for not just this COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson, but also rubella vaccine, shingles vaccine, chickenpox vaccine, hepatitis A vaccines. They are an important part of our medical technology,” Adalja said.

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is made using a harmless cold virus, called an adenovirus, the same technology it used to produce a successful Ebola vaccine. The adenovirus is grown using what’s called an immortalized cell line, and the virus then is pulled out and purified.

Several types of cell lines created decades ago using fetal tissue exist and are widely used in medical manufacturing but the cells in them today are clones of the early cells, not the original tissue.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a January statement that “abortion-derived” cell lines were used to test the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines but not in their development or production.

The Archdiocese statements renewed religious discussions about the vaccine and the use of abortion-derived cells. In December, the Vatican said that “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses” in the research and production process when “ethically irreproachable” vaccines aren’t available to the public.

Pope Francis has frequently spoken about the need to ensure that vaccines are widely available, especially to the poor and marginalized. And, last month, a decree signed by the governor of the Vatican city-state said that Vatican employees who opt out of vaccination without a proven medical reason could be subject to sanctions, including being fired.

“Given that the COVID-19 virus can involve serious health risks, it can be morally acceptable to receive a vaccine that uses abortion-derived cell lines if no other available vaccines comparable in safety and efficacy with no connection to abortion,” January guidance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

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Meghan Schiller