The whole world is suffering from a health crisis, COVID-19, for almost half a year now. Other than the strict and complex health measures observed, the vaccine may be one of the only solutions to bring the world back to normalcy. Scientists and experts are now on their way to not only discovering, but also testing and producing coronavirus vaccines. However, religious leaders in Australia have come together to give a call to their government officials to change course about their current development of coronavirus vaccine.
An Ethically Compromised COVID-19 Vaccine
With the virus continuously stunting all forms of development and movement in the world, a vaccine may be the only way to stop it. Australia plans to create a vaccine together with the United Kingdom’s University of Oxford. However, it received multiple concerned reactions from the community. Strong reactions came from religious groups in Australia, citing that they have concerns about a possible ethical dilemma it could give to people. The main reason – it will be tested in fetal cells.
A good and important point to make is that scientists will not be getting new cells from a new fetus. For a clearer picture, scientists all over the world reproduce human cells from a variety of sources. Thes are usually called immortal cell lines. It must be pointed out that human cells do not survive outside of the body for more than a few hours or days without intervention. These kinds of ‘immortal cell lines’ could be kept alive for a much longer period. This is why they are commonly used for scientific research. These human cell lines have proved important and useful throughout the decades. It has paved the way for discoveries on how to treat and cure illnesses. Examples of these would be the HeLa cell line. Currently, the vaccine in question will use a cell line that came from an aborted fetus from the 1970s.
A letter of objection stating their concerns about the ethical production of the vaccine was sent to the Australian Prime Minister last week. It was signed by the Catholic archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher. However, multiple other religious leaders co-signed the letter. They include the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Australia Makarios Griniezakis, and Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies. A similar reaction was also given by religious leaders in Britain.
The Reaction from the Government
Government officials must now weigh the truth and possibility that Australians MAY refuse to get tested because of the stated fact. The concerns made by these religious leaders may be possible and are valid. Having a significant portion of the population refuse vaccination brings danger not only to themselves but other immunocompromised people surrounding them (like children and the elderly). It must be pointed out as well, that this issue may be in conjunction with the current vaccination trends nowadays. Like the “anti-vaxxers” trend where people refuse to vaccinate their children out of fear that it causes illnesses and disabilities. However, there may be no time to waste. Vaccine research may take years to complete, especially since COVID-19 is found to be mutating.
In support of the current vaccine production, multiple government officials have also shown their support. They called their Prime Minister to consider “similar arrangements” for alternative vaccines. There is no need to completely discontinue the current vaccine research, it is just a matter of providing options for Australians.
A Vaccine Boycott?
Why is this creating a problem? Abortion is the elective ending the life of an unborn fetus. It is strongly frowned upon in many religions all over the world. There are even countries where it remains illegal and social taboo. It was only in 2019 when ALL parts of Australia have abortion finally been decriminalized. Abortion laws in Australia started in 1998 and legalizing it entails the protection of the life and health of women.
Just to make it clear, the Australian bishop did not (in any way) call for all Catholics to boycott the current vaccine being produced and supported by the Australian government. The Catholic bishop claims that he is a vaccine advocate and supports the need for vaccination for all types of diseases. He is rather disappointed at how the online community has twisted his words negatively. There will be a possibility that a portion of the Australian population will refuse should the vaccine be ready for mass production. This may be due to a sense of guilt that fetal cells are being used for testing.
Writing to the Australian government does not equate to boycotting the vaccine. These religious leaders were simply asking that Australia look for a different vaccine production process which entails a more ethical procedure. The online community wanting to boycott the virus may be one of the things he was originally afraid of. The lack of knowledge and deep understanding leads to a social divide amongst Australians. Such should be the least of the government’s problems at a time of a health pandemic.