465 views | Akpan Akata | March 5, 2021
Freshly approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in the United States is facing a religious controversy as the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans labels it “morally compromised” over links to abortion cells.
The jab, which comes in a single-shot form was approved for emergency use in the US. Already, it is being rolled out in South Africa.
US approved its third vaccine, with the Johnson & Johnson jab joining Pfizer and Moderna in the ongoing battle against the coronavirus.
Acting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Janet Woodcock, said in a statement late on Saturday, “the authorisation of this vaccine expands the availability of vaccines, the best medical prevention method for COVID-19, to help us in the fight against this pandemic, which has claimed over half a million lives in the US.”
Unlike most of the anti-coronavirus solutions already present in the market, the Johnson & Johnson jab comes in a single-dose form, making its distribution considerably easier. It can also be stored in regular refrigerators, while both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require extremely low temperatures to prevent spoiling.
The pharma giant unveiled the results of the vaccine’s late-stage trials last month. The Johnson & Johnson shot demonstrated rather modest efficacy, averaging 66 percent. It has been tested across several countries and showed mixed results ranging from 72 percent in the US to a mere 57 percent in South Africa.
Johnson & Johnson submitted its vaccine to the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week, seeking approval for its emergency use on the international field. The authorization would give the company the option to join the COVAX program, led by the UN’s health watchdog.
So far, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has only seen action in South Africa, after the country hastily searched for new options when its mass vaccination campaign stalled. South Africa began its immunisation drive early in February, using the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The process, however, was halted just a few days after its start, due to a limited-scope study that suggested the shot fared extremely poorly against the local extra-contagious COVID-19 variant.
Catholics are advised not to receive the vaccine because Johnson & Johnson used cell lines derived from decades-old abortions in both testing and production of the new product, the Archdiocese said in a statement.
Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have utilised cell lines from abortions in testing their previously approved vaccines, but not in their manufacturing processes, so they are considered “morally acceptable” because of their “extremely remote” connection to abortion, argued the second-oldest Catholic province in the US.
“We maintain that the decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine remains one of individual conscience, in consultation with one’s healthcare provider”, the Archdiocese added.
“We also maintain that in no way does the church’s position diminish the wrongdoing of those who decided to use cell lines from abortions to make vaccines. In doing so, we advise that if the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.”
The Catholic Church has been supportive of COVID-19 vaccines in general. In fact, Pope Francis asserted in January that people have a “moral obligation” to receive one of the new inoculations as soon as possible.
“It is the moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others”, he said.
However, the church also remains staunchly opposed to abortion and any exploitation of tissue from aborted babies. The cells at issue with the new coronavirus vaccines trace back to fetal tissue from abortions performed in the 1970s and 1980s. Those cells have been replicated billions of times and manipulated in pharmaceutical research, similar to the treatment of cervical cancer cells of a woman named Henrietta Lacks, a patient at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Lacks’ cancer cells had an extraordinary ability to double every 20-24 hours, rather than quickly die like other cancer cells, allowing them to be used to study the effects of radiation, poisons, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. Though Lacks herself died in 1951, her cell lines live on today.
Johnson & Johnson aims to ship out 100 million doses of its new vaccine by the end of June, including 3.9 million that are scheduled to go out this week, after receiving emergency use authorization from the FDA on Saturday. Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, it requires only one dose for a person to be inoculated.
Like Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson product is a human adenovirus vector-based vaccine, which can’t replicate in human cells but triggers them to make “spike” proteins. The immune system recognizes those proteins as foreign and makes antibodies against them, which protect against the targeted virus.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use so-called messenger RNA (mRNA) to trick the person’s cells into making the proteins.
The Johnson & Johnson jab was shown in US testing to be 72 percent effective at preventing against Covid-19 infection and 86 percent effective at preventing severe illness or death. The two-dose Sputnik V tested at more than 95-percent effective, just above the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Adenoviral vaccines – including the Johnson & Johnson’s, Sputnik V and the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in Europe – can be stored in refrigerators, whereas the mRNA doses have to be kept deeply frozen.