Thankfully the vaccination roll-out has now begun, but some Christians are still concerned about the advisability of receiving the vaccine—either because of the speed of its approval, or because of questions about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s use of cell line [HEK293] developed from the tissue of an aborted foetus. In Western Australia, there is even an anti-vaccination party running in the State election. 

How might we think about these matters as followers of Jesus in the light of his Word?

Too Fast for Safety?

The speed of the development and approval of these vaccines is something to be thankful for

In many ways, the speed of the development and approval of these vaccines is something to be thankful for. It reflects developments in vaccine production and the use of new and existing technologies—DNA sequencing, mRNA research—to produce a safe vaccine. This talk by Francis Collins—a Christian directly involved in overseeing the development of these vaccines—helpfully explains how mRNA [messenger RNA] vaccines [used by Pfizer and Moderna] give the cell the information needed to produce the antigen [the foreign protein] that the cell then recognises and develops an immune response to.

The protein is not the virus—just a part of the virus—and so cannot infect us. The m-RNA cannot enter the cell nucleus and is rapidly degraded by the cell’s ordinary recycling processes. In principle, these vaccines are as safe or safer than traditionally produced vaccines that use killed or live attenuated viruses.

From the millions of doses already administered it is clear that side effects are generally minor

The question with the speed of approval is really a question of whether all the normal steps in the approval process have been followed, and whether the vaccine has been tested with sufficient sample sizes to prove both its safety and its efficacy. 

The answer to both those questions from those involved in the process is yes. All the approval steps have been met—particularly in Australia where we have had the luxury of less urgency—and the global sample size is now huge. 

From the millions of doses already administered, it is clear that side effects are generally minor, and the signs of an effective response are nothing more than a soreness in the arm, and a mild short fever. With any medical procedure there are risks—even taking an aspirin—but the benefit has to be weighed against the risk. In the case of these vaccinations, the risks—as far as it can be known, are small—and the benefit to the individual and particularly the community, large.

Products of Abortion?

Pro-life Christians are also concerned about the use of cell lines developed from aborted foetuses in the production and testing of these vaccines. This link to the Lozier institute shows which vaccines are produced using these cell lines, and which are not. 

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both synthetic vaccines; manufactured, and not multiplied in cell lines. Cell lines have not been used in their production and there is no component of them that has any connection with cells from an aborted foetus. They have been tested on these cell lines, however, as have many other medications. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine is produced in the cells of the HEK293 cell line. How should this influence our decision, about whether to get the vaccine and which vaccine to get? 

There are at least two ethical questions: 

  1. Does our use of something derived from an abortion [in this case, a forty-year-old immortalised’ cell line], make us complicit in the original evil act of the abortion?
  2. Does our use promote further abortions? 

Some will answer the first question by saying that the use of anything derived from an abortion indicates complicity. I am not persuaded by that as so much of what we use, taken far enough back, will have some moral taint. Some would argue that even our living in Australia and enjoying its wealth comes from an evil act of invasion. Does that mean we should abandon living here?

Paul walked on roads made for the Roman military, to facilitate their conquest and occupation. Should he have restricted himself to the perilous, and at times impassable, non-Roman roads? 

Paul walked on roads made for the Roman military, to facilitate their conquest and occupation. Should he have restricted himself to the perilous, and at times impassable, non-Roman roads? 

We do not live in a perfect world and, while we should grieve for the pervasiveness of sin in our world, we should also be thankful it is a world where sometimes good is brought from evil. The original abortion, done in the ’60s, was not done to develop the cell line, which was developed in 1972. It would have happened whether or not a cell line was developed. This cell line has since been altered significantly from the original cells. Those who are working on developing the vaccine also have a clear intent to do good, to save lives. 

I am not persuaded by the suggestion that the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine makes us complicit in the evil of the original abortion. Does our use of this cell line promote further abortions? No, although it may contribute to the normalisation of the use of such products. That is a serious consideration, but whether the products of abortion continue to be used in research will depend more on changing the ethical climate to value the unborn human life and the development of alternatives. 

We should campaign for the cessation of the use of the products of abortion in research and for ethically developed vaccines, but whether that campaign will be helped by frustrating the achievement of community-immunity by refusing vaccination is another question. If we are pro-life—and believers should be—then we must also be pro- the lives of those who will be spared sickness and death by an effective community-wide vaccination program. 

Wild Conspiracies

There are all kinds of wild conspiracies going around: about 5G; the vaccine being used to insert a microchip with the mark of the beast; the nefarious activities of Bill Gates to control or make money out of us by this vaccination. 

Francis Collins urges us to remember Philippians 4:6: to think about ‘whatever is true.’ We should not occupy ourselves with untrue and harmful speculations, such as these. Paul, in Titus 3:9-11, tells Titus and the believers in Crete to ‘avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.’ That also is written for us.

Science, risk and love.

Should we participate in the vaccine rollout? I will. With gratitude.

So should we participate in the vaccine rollout? I will. With gratitude. Let me give you some reasons to consider that have influenced my decision.

All truth is God’s truth. He made the world and all that is in it. Science is the study of his handiwork, and the knowledge discovered by it, part of the means God has given us for fulfilling our role in creation, to steward the world and multiply on it. God is the one who instructs farmers in their practice [Is 28:23-26], and who creates the smith [Is 54:16-17]. He teaches people to manipulate creation; to order their lives and societies. 

So we should welcome scientific discoveries about the operation of cells and the common grace of God that now serves us in showing us how we can fight these novel viruses. Christian suspicion of science in this context is not helpful.

There is always risk in anything we do. Risk needs to be balanced against benefit, not just to us but to others. We might think that we have only a small risk of contracting COVID or having a serious illness when we do contract it, and so think the benefit of vaccination will be only marginal to us. But we must also consider the benefit to others. Overseas experience tells us that the COVID infection is serious and deadly to many and seems to have long term consequences for many others. 

The healthy who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated to protect the more vulnerable. Further community-wide vaccination will help limit the development of new, potentially more dangerous, strains of the virus by decreasing the amount of virus multiplying in the community.

Getting vaccinated is an act of love. The economic and social cost of trying to prevent the spread of this infection without vaccination would be [and already has been] enormous. It would fall principally upon the young, whose education has been disrupted; on those whose work has been lost; and on those who will be repaying the debt for decades. 

Thus, love for our neighbour and our community should encourage us to get vaccinated where we can, whatever our assessment of the benefit to us individually. Love will want the vulnerable protected; our health care staff to be safer; our economy to once again be able to open up; for people to be able to travel freely to see family, for opportunities for mutation to be limited. Love will want our government to help make this vaccine widely available to other, poorer nations too.

Save or Kill?

‘Is it right, lawful,’ Jesus asked in Mark 3:4, ‘on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ He asked this of people whose religious scruples, whose fear of doing something wrong on the Sabbath, made them willing to leave a man in misery for a little longer. Jesus was not pleased with them and healed the man. 

The answer to Jesus’ question is that it is always right to do good and save life and receiving the vaccination will do that. So I will receive the vaccination when my turn comes with thankfulness to God for his kindness in giving us this knowledge and ability to combat this disease, and letting us get on to face the other trials that will come our way in this fallen world.

Some more helpful resources:

A good place to start


A helpful interview with Francis Collins, someone personally involved at the highest level with the development of vaccines


On whether or not foetal cells are used in the production of the vaccine


On RNA vaccines


Albert Mohler: Part II The Christian Tradition and the Question of Vaccines: Seven Principles for Christian Thinking


A brief article on the acceptability of using vaccines that have been developed using the cell line HEK293


Megan Best, an Australian Christian bio-ethicist, considers the morality of the AstraZeneca vaccine


The Gospel, Society and Culture committee of PCNSW also has a series of helpful posts on vaccination at http://gsandc.org.au/vaccinations-the-big-questions/