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Why COVID-19 vaccines are pro-life: Abortion, conspiracy theories, and the sanctity of life

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A gloved hand holds a vial labeled COVID-19 vaccine
© myboys.me/stock.adobe.com


In two months, the US could be swimming in COVID-19 vaccines. This is because the five hundred million 0.5- or 0.3-milliliter doses expected to be shipped by that time are enough to fill a fifty-five-thousand-gallon swimming pool.

The good news is that, according to Pew Research Center, 69 percent of Americans say they have received a vaccine or intend to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This is up from 60 percent who said last November that they planned to get vaccinated. 

The bad news is that white evangelicals are the least likely faith group in the US to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Only 54 percent said they “definitely or probably” plan to become vaccinated or already have received at least one vaccination shot. By contrast, 90 percent of atheists, 80 percent of agnostics, 77 percent of Catholics, and 71 percent of the religiously unaffiliated have been or plan to become vaccinated. 

The Pew report lists a number of reasons cited by those who say they will not be vaccinated:

  • Concern about side effects
  • The vaccines were developed and tested too quickly
  • Want to know more about how well they work
  • Have seen too many mistakes from the medical care system in the past
  • Do not think I need it
  • Do not get vaccines in general

Three faith-based questions are additionally being raised by evangelical Christians: 

  • Do the vaccines use aborted fetuses or otherwise promote abortion?
  • Does the mRNA vaccine change our God-given DNA, thus altering our bodies in ways God did not intend?
  • Are the vaccines the “mark of the beast” or otherwise part of a spiritual conspiracy against God’s people?

I have been asked these questions often in radio interviews and other media. My purpose in this paper is to address them, offer faith-based reasons for becoming vaccinated, and close with a statement on the urgency of a pro-life ethic for today. 

Are COVID-19 vaccines connected to abortion? 

Last fall, a Catholic bishop urged his followers not to take the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, claiming that the use of fetal cells at any stage of a vaccine’s development meant Catholics could not avail themselves of its scientific results. 

I responded at the time by noting that the vaccines used cells from the HEK293T fetal cell line in the testing process, though neither includes such cells in the vaccines themselves. This tissue was acquired in the Netherlands in the 1970s, but it is unclear whether they came from a spontaneous miscarriage or an elective abortion. 

However, the cell line developed from it no longer contains fetal tissue cells. In addition, vaccines made from existing cell lines do not promote abortion since it is completely unnecessary to create such lines from aborted children today. Baptist theologian Albert Mohler is right: “There is no activity related to abortion in the present that is in any way associated with the use of these vaccines.” 

The archdiocese of New Orleans recently raised related concerns with regard to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, claiming that “it is morally compromised as it uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine as well as the testing.” By contrast, a consortium of pro-life Catholic scholars stated that this vaccine is also acceptable, noting the following: 

  • The HEK293 cells in question are artifacts—”biological products that have been modified and reproduced many times over”—and thus are not “body parts” in any morally relevant sense.
  • Any abortions from which cell lines such as HEK293 were derived happened decades ago; “no further fetal tissue is used or needed for the maintenance of these lines.” As a result, the vaccines did not contribute to, cooperate with, or promote any abortion.
  • The HEK293 cell line is currently used around the world in scientific research. In fact, “nearly every person in the modern world has consumed food products, taken medications, or used cosmetics/personal care products that were developed through the use of HEK293 cells in the food, biomedical, and cosmetic industries.”
  • The HEK293 cell line and those like it “do not contain the remains of any human being and so its use does not show disrespect for human remains, any more than the contemporary use of products, such as roads or train lines, that were constructed by unjustly enslaved human beings, or use of land unjustly taken, shows disrespect for those victims in the distant past.”

The Catholic scholars also note that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, because it requires only one dose and does not require storage at extremely low temperature, “may be more useful in reaching remote or otherwise underserved populations.” 

I would add that receiving a vaccine which used fetal cells in its development, even if those cells were the product of an abortion, is no more an endorsement of abortion than receiving a heart transplant from a murder victim is an endorsement of murder. Rather, this is a way of redeeming the past for the sake of the present and the future. 

The COVID-19 vaccines will not profit abortion providers or lead to further abortions. In no way are they linked to the abortion industry. To the contrary, as we will see below, receiving such vaccines is a significant way to promote a biblical, pro-life ethic in its holistic dimensions. 

Do the COVID-19 vaccines change DNA? 

Some evangelicals are raising a second faith-based question: Does mRNA technology used in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines alter our DNA? If so, is this a violation of God’s intended design for our bodies and our future? 

A quick explanation: messenger RNA (known as mRNA) is a “single-stranded copy of a small part of DNA, which is routinely made in the nucleus, but then released into the main part of the cell so that the instructions it carries can be ‘read’ and made into a variety of proteins needed by the cell.” In other words, mRNA contains coding which prompts cells to make proteins. 

With regard to COVID-19, mRNA has been engineered to prompt cells to produce the “S” protein or “spike” (the “corona” for which the virus is called a “coronavirus”). To be clear: this spike has none of the negative effects of the virus itself. When cells produce these spikes, our bodies recognize them as foreign and create an immune response. Then, if we are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, this immune response protects us from the disease. 

The mRNA never goes into the nucleus of the cell, the part that contains our DNA. As a result, it cannot alter our DNA or otherwise change our God-given design. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not use mRNA; rather, it employs a disabled virus completely unrelated to coronavirus to prompt our body’s immune response. Like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it has no effect whatsoever on our DNA. 

Rather than posing a threat, mRNA technology is actually groundbreaking on a variety of levels. 

Previous vaccines took years or even decades to develop. Research on the polio vaccine, for example, was begun in the 1930s but not completed until Jonas Salk’s breakthrough in 1953. Vaccines for the seasonal flu typically provide 40 to 60 percent efficacy. By contrast, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed in less than a year and offer efficacy exceeding 94 percent. 

This cell-based mRNA technology holds enormous promise for future medical breakthroughs. Using this approach, researchers will be able to identify pathogens and engineer a vaccine in just a few days, with mass production in just a few months. Since scientists expect more pandemics in the future, such technology will be vital. It is also being studied for applications to HIV, malaria, cancer, and a variety of other diseases. 

Are the COVID-19 vaccines the “mark of the beast”? 

Other related questions have been raised about the COVID-19 vaccines. One warns that they are the biblical “mark of the beast” and will be used against humans in the future. This theory claims that the vaccination needle would implant microchips in our bodies to track us and enable cryptocurrency transactions. It notes that the patent number contains “666” and claims that the vaccines will empower government agencies to force us to be vaccinated. 

Here are the facts: 

A vaccination needle has been developed that dissolves while leaving a dye pattern that would record a patient’s vaccination history. This dye is still under development. It would be used to help doctors know a patient’s medical history, which would be especially relevant in times of emergency. This research has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. 

However, there are no plans to use this technology for coronavirus vaccines. It does not use microchips. Due to the physical properties of the ink, it could not possibly be used as a tracking device or to communicate with cryptocurrency technology. 

Patent numbers are randomly assigned; WO 060606 A1 has not yet been granted. “WO” is short for WIPO, indicating that the patent will be administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (and not the New World Order). The congressional contact tracing bill would enable local organizations to hire and pay people to operate mobile testing units and conduct voluntary contact tracing; it does not authorize the government to enter homes, forcibly test, or remove people to be quarantined. 

And the biblical “mark of the beast” is to be placed “on the right hand or the forehead” (Revelation 13:16) where it is visible, not implanted on the upper arm as an invisible dot or microchip. 

In short, not one element of this vaccination conspiracy theory is true. 

Three pro-life reasons to be vaccinated against COVID-19

Christians should be “pro-life,” not just “pro-birth.” We should advocate for the sanctity of life from conception to natural death (from the womb to the tomb, as this position is sometimes described). 

In this context, a variety of factors urge us to become vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Loving our neighbors as ourselves 

Scientists are warning that a pandemic “fourth wave” may be coming. Pointing to rising infection rates in Europe, they note that vaccinating the public is the only way to end the pandemic and prevent further suffering and deaths. 

Vaccines are essential to protecting frontline workers until the pandemic ends. And they are vital to preventing the spread of mutating coronavirus strains. In fact, researchers expect to continue developing booster shots against future variants similar to current annual flu shots. 

Because vaccinations are so important in protecting others, especially the most vulnerable among us, Pope Francis recently stated: “It’s an ethical choice, because you are playing with health, life, but you are also playing with the lives of others. I’ve signed up. One must do it.” 

Protecting our bodies as God’s temple 

God’s word asks, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Stewarding our bodies well is a vital responsibility for all humans, a fact that relates directly to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Even for those who survive COVID-19, acute symptoms can persist for as many as a third of patients. Symptoms include depression, fever, cognitive confusion, debilitating exhaustion and fatigue, difficulty sleeping, heart rhythm abnormalities, and breathing issues. Such symptoms can arise weeks or months after the initial diagnosis. 

COVID-19 vaccines can prevent these consequences of the disease and their impact on our long-term health and ability to serve God and others. 

Witnessing well to others 

When atheists are nearly twice as likely as white evangelicals to be vaccinated against the deadliest pandemic in a century, our witness as Christians is undermined. We appear to be anti-science, anti-reason, and anti-community. 

In a culture that is becoming ever more secularized and anti-Christian, it is urgent that we are always “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Such a defense calls for “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) by loving God with all our minds and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37, 39). 

Conclusion 

My wife and I recently received our second Moderna vaccinations. We chose to be vaccinated for the reasons we’ve discussed in this paper. In so doing, we joined a growing chorus of Christians who are serving Jesus by serving others in this simple but vital way. 

For example: “The Rev. Celester Webb walked between pews that have been empty since March, toward the vials of vaccine waiting at the front of his church. The nurses brought enough for 150 people to get their first COVID-19 vaccination under the roof of United Church of God in Christ in St. Paul. The first shot was going in the pastor’s arm, so the congregation could see, so the congregation would know, that it was safe.” 

The Minnesota pastor explained, “I don’t want to get sick and die and I don’t want my loved ones to get sick and die.” 

St. Augustine asked, “What does love look like?” 

Then he answered his question: “It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”