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Jessica Glenza and Martin Pengelly report:

The archdiocese of New Orleans, as well as Roman Catholic leaders in St Louis, Missouri, have told local Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine, because its early development used “morally compromised cell lines created from two abortions”.

The leadership in New Orleans said two other vaccines in use in the US, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, were acceptable despite having been developed with “some lab testing that utilised the abortion-derived cell line”. The archdiocese made the announcement on Friday.

The statement put the archdiocese at odds with Pope Francis. In December, the Vatican said it was “morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted foetuses in their research and production process”, as the use of such vaccines “does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive”.

The archdiocese of St Louis on Tuesday, meanwhile, encouraged Catholics to seek out the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and avoid the Johnson & Johnson version if possible. Like the New Orleans archdiocese statement, the St Louis statement called the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “morally compromised”.

However, the St Louis statement stressed that Catholics can get that vaccine “in good conscience if no other alternative is available”.

Cells derived from an elective abortion in the Netherlands in the 1970s are commonly used in medical research. Last October, it was widely reported that an experimental Covid-19 therapy given to Donald Trump, Regeneron, was developed using such cells.

Like most Republicans, the then president had courted anti-abortion groups and moved to restrict use of fetal tissue in research. Fetal tissue research has led to a number of important medical advances, especially in vaccine development.

Cell lines derived from aborted tissue were used in the development of the polio, chickenpox, hepatitis A and shingles vaccines. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine subsidiary Janssen used PER.C6 cells, a proprietary cell line derived from aborted tissue in 1985.

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