FARGO — While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a welcome third option for the fight against COVID-19, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put out a statement Tuesday, March 2, discouraging Catholics from taking it, because it raises several moral concerns.
Dioceses across the country, including the Diocese of Fargo, stand by the statement.
"There's a moral obligation to protect your fellow man," said Paul Braun, the director of communications for the Diocese of Fargo. "There's also a moral obligation to try not to use a vaccine that was derived from aborted tissue cells."
Dr. Avish Nagpal, an infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health, said the cells used in Johnson & Johnson's shot come from an aborted fetus harvested in the 1980s, and added the cells are important to grow the virus, before eventually killing it and putting it in the vaccine.
"You cannot grow the virus on a Petri dish like you can grow bacteria," Nagpal said. "You need a cell line, because the virus itself is incapable of dividing on its own."
A handout from the North Dakota Department of Health shows both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also used fetus cells to figure out how effective they are, but they weren't included in the final product. This makes the connection to them more remote, which is why Catholic leaders are pushing patients to take either of them.
"Everybody's faith and beliefs are very important to me, so my job here is to provide (patients) with different options," Nagpal said.
While Catholic groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are speaking out against the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they aren't fully dismissing it.
"If you don't have access to (Pifzer or Moderna), and you only have access to the Johnson & Johnson (vaccine), then you can go ahead and take it for the good of society," Braun said.
Along with Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also spoke out against the AstraZeneca vaccine back in December for the same reason.