That whole aborted fetus thing

Those who know me well know that I’m not big on the pro-life people. I totally understand their objections to abortion, most of those objections, anyway. I just don’t understand their obsession with telling women what to do with their bodies or telling people in general what healthcare decisions they should make in consultations with a healthcare provider. Well, one of the objections to vaccination that I hear a lot is that vaccines “contain aborted fetus cells”. This is akin to me saying that the house dust around me, uh, house contains dead people.

Let me explain…

Let’s establish some quick facts. First, vaccines have saved millions of lives and millions of dollars in resources by preventing diseases that kill or disable people of all ages. Second, whether we like it or not, we live in a utilitarian society, where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. It’s sad, especially when you think of kids with a very rare genetic disease who have no hope for a cure because there is virtually no funding for research. But that’s the way things are. Third, it is our responsibility as moral and ethical human beings to learn from tragedies and wrongs so that some good can come of them. This is why surgeons write-up their worst mistakes, pilots give courses on accidents they’ve had, and recovering drug addicts speak to audiences of at-risk youths.

When someone who dies donates their organs, they are making a contribution to society that is very difficult to compare. Out of a tragedy comes life for others. This is the case with respect to the two cell lines currently used in the United States to make vaccines. First, let’s recap real quick how some viral vaccines are made.

Viruses, if you remember, are small organisms that replicate strictly inside of cells. Viruses don’t have their own multiplication mechanism. Because of this, it is necessary to have cells in petri dishes in a lab in order to grow viruses to study them and then make vaccines. These cells had to come from somewhere, and scientists have tried many different types of cells. They’ve tried cells from animals, from insects, from plants. They have tried kidney cells, lung cells, brain cells, etcetera.

In the 1960’s, two fetuses were aborted. One was 3 months gestation, and the other was 14 weeks gestation. One was a girl, and the other was a boy. Cells from their lungs were taken and grown in the lab. Those cells multiplied and created other cells. Then different viruses were placed in those cells and found to grow. Not only did the viruses just grow, but they grew well. The cells multiplied at a good rate. They were able to keep a steady supply of cells for research. The viruses placed in those cells also grew well. They were able to be attenuated and otherwise used for vaccines.

It’s been over 40 years since these cell lines were harvested from aborted fetuses and used to create life-saving vaccines. The cells in those petri dishes – simplifying a bit – are the daughters of the daughters of the granddaughters of the… Well, you get the point. The cells we have today are generations removed from the original fetal cells. Just like my cells are not the cells of my great grandfather. Just like the house dust is not me anymore. Know what I mean?

So, yeah, it’s a tragedy that those fetuses were aborted. Abortion is one of those things I wish didn’t exist. But to say that I can’t use a vaccine to prevent a deadly disease because cells used today for growing the vaccine strain of the viruses are derived from cells cultivated 40+ years ago? That’s one heck of a stretch. It’s not like we’re aborting fetuses left and right to make vaccines, for crying out loud.
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2 thoughts on “That whole aborted fetus thing

  1. True, Science Mom. They scream to high heaven about that but then cover their ears and chant when it is mentioned to them that a lot of bacterial and fungal DNA enters them when we get cut or step on a nail.

  2. It is also worthy to note that the small random fragments of genome that end up in a vaccine do not have any health implications. They do not alter host genome or recombine or whatever crazy claim is made by any one of the anti-vaxx "experts".

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