What are Abortion-Derived Cell Lines? | HEK 293 Cell Line | PER.C6 Cell Line | Pfizer-BioNtech | Moderna | AstraZeneca-Oxford | Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) | mRNA Vaccines | Viral Vector Vaccines
There has been ongoing concern regarding the use of abortion-derived cell lines in the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Based on the data provided by vaccine developers, all of the above vaccines have been confirmed of using abortion-derived cell lines in their design, production or testing stages(2).
DISCLAIMER: Guelph & Area Right to Life will strive to update this page as new information surfaces. The information presented on this page was most recently updated on May 6, 2021.
What are Abortion-Derived Cell Lines?
Cell lines are cells that have been removed from a living organism (animal or plant) and artificially grown in laboratories(3). Abortion-derived cell lines, also referred to as fetal cell lines, are cell lines that have originated specifically from aborted human beings. These cell lines have been used to develop some COVID-19 vaccines(2). Additionally, some vaccine manufacturers have tested their vaccines on these cell lines, to see if the desired vaccine response is generated(2).
Cell Lines used in COVID-19 vaccine development:
HEK 293 Cell Line
HEK-293 is one of the MOST COMMON fetal cell lines used in modern scientific research(5). The cell line, created and generated by Dr. Frank Graham and Dr. Alex van der Eb, originated from the kidney of a female human embryo that was aborted in 1973(4,5). The acronym HEK stands for human embryonic kidney, and the number 293 signifies the number of experiments it took to get to the currently used cell line(4,5).
PER.C6 Cell Line
PER.C6 is a fetal cell line that has been used for the development and testing of some COVID-19 vaccines(2). This cell line originated from the retina of an 18 week aborted male human fetus in 1985(6).
Government-approved COVID-19 vaccines in Canada:
The Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine(8). Though fetal cell lines were not used in the design and production of this vaccine, the HEK-293 cell line was used in confirmatory lab tests in order to test the efficacy of the vaccine(2).
The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine(8). Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine uses the HEK-293 fetal cell line in its design, production AND confirmatory lab tests(2).
Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine(8). Similar to AstraZeneca, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses fetal cell lines in its design, production and confirmatory lab tests(2). The fetal cell line used in this vaccine’s development is the PER.C6 cell line(2).
What is the Difference between mRNA Vaccines and Viral Vector Vaccines?
mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine that delivers information about the virus you want to vaccinate against, without the use of a weakened or inactivated virus(7). COVID-19 mRNA vaccines provide your body with instructions (mRNA) on producing the COVID-19 spike protein, which is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19(7). Once the instructions have entered your body, they are taken up into cells which use the instructions to make the spike protein(7). After the protein is made, the instructions are broken down by and removed from the cell(7). The cells then display the spike protein on their cell surface, so that your immune system is able to see and memorize the spike protein(7). Your immune cells then get rid of the cells with spike protein(7).
Take a look at this video for a visual explaination of how mRNA vaccines work.
Viral Vector Vaccines
Viral vector vaccines use a virus that cannot infect you (known as a vector), to deliver information about the virus you want to vaccinate against(8). Similar to mRNA vaccines, viral vector vaccines provides your body with instructions on producing the COVID-19 spike protein(8). However, in the case of a viral vector vaccine, these instructions are hidden in a viral vector (viral particles that cannot make you sick)(8). The viral vector delivers the genetic instructions for building the COVID-19 spike protein to your cells(8). Your cells then make the protein and display it on their cell surface, so that your immune system is able to see and memorize the spike protein(8). Following this, your immune cells rid of the cells with spike proteins in addition to the viral vector that was carrying instructions for building the spike protein(8). Now, your body has memory of the spike protein in order to help it recognize COVID-19 if encountered in the future(8).
For more information on the different types of COVID-19 vaccines, visit this helpful visual aid from the Charlotte Lozier Institute
- Government of Canada. (2021, April 8). Vaccines for COVID-19: Authorized vaccines. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/drugs-vaccines-treatments/vaccines.html
- Prentice, D. & Sander Lee, T. (2020, December 8). What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines. Charlotte Lozier Institute. https://lozierinstitute.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-covid-19-vaccine/
- ThermoFisher Scientific. (n.d.). Introduction to cell culture. https://www.thermofisher.com/ca/en/home/references/gibco-cell-culture-basics/introduction-to-cell-culture.html
- Yao-Cheng, L., Boone, M., Meuris, L., Lemmens, I., Van Roy, N., Soete, A., Reumers, J., Moisse, M., Paisance, S., Drmanac, R., Chen, J., Speleman, F., Lambrechts, D., Van de Peer, Y., Tavernier, J. & Callewaert, N. (2014). Genome dynamics of the human embryonic kidney lineage in response to cell biology manipulations. Nature Communications 5(4767). https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms5767
- Graham, F.L., Smiley, J., Russell, W.C. & Nairn, R. (1977). Characteristics of a human cell line transformed by DNA from human adenovirus type 5. Journal of General Virology 36(1). https://doi.org/10.1099/0022-1317-36-1-59
- Creative Biolabs. (n.d.). PER.C6 cell lines. https://www.gmp-creativebiolabs.com/per-c6-cell-lines_74.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 4). Understanding mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mrna.html
- Media Relations. (2021, March 3). Q and A with the experts: AstraZenenca and viral vector vaccines. University of Waterloo. https://uwaterloo.ca/news/media/q-and-experts-astrazeneca-and-viral-vector-vaccines