Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Covid-19: US Catholics split after bishops’ conference recommends against Johnson and Johnson vaccine

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 09 March 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n666

Read our latest coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Rapid Response:

Re: Covid-19: US Catholics split after bishops’ conference recommends against Johnson and Johnson vaccine

Dear Editor

As a GP, I fully support the need for vaccination in our current crisis situation with COVID-19 virus, but would like to raise concerns about the vaccine take up and roll-out among some vulnerable people I have been dealing with.

I have met many people who have been disturbed to learn, after doing their own research, that the vaccines commonly available have been developed and tested (AstraZeneca & Johnson and Johnson), or tested only (Pfizer/BioNTech & Moderna) using the cell lines of aborted babies [1]. This information has not been publicised, and this very silence has generated mistrust among this group of people. I am not sure how informed consent can be given when there is this apparently hidden, unethically-dubious source of the vaccine?

This is in contrast to that provided for those who support animal rights or are vegan, as there is a statement: ‘The coronavirus vaccines do not contain products of animal origin’ [2].

Nowhere on the nhsinform site, nor on the govuk information sites, have I been able to find information on the use of aborted foetal cell lines [3] [4].

This demonstrates a lack of transparency, and is very upsetting for those who feel they cannot, following their conscience be immunised with vaccines ‘tainted’ with abortion. This can easily become a scandal, which I have witnessed evolving into suspicions, conspiracy theories which feed into the narrative of the anti-vaccine lobby. This is a shame, as it will leave very many vulnerable people exposed.

If we want to increase the vaccination rate, it is essential that fully ethically derived vaccines are made available and recipients are allowed a choice. We need to support the development and distribution of products not manufactured nor tested on aborted foetal cell lines.

We cannot regulate against the anti-vaxxers, if this would violate their conscience. This would be even more concerning if Health Care workers should be mandated to receive the vaccine. I hope that people should be given the choice of vaccines sourced ethically as soon as this becomes possible.

Anne Williams, GP Glasgow, Director Scottish Council on Human Bioethics

[1] Prentice, D., September 30, 2020. COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates and Abortion-Derived Cell Lines, Updated March 3, 2021. [Accessed 11/03/21]
[2] COVID-19 vaccine The vaccines The vaccines used to protect against coronavirus, nhs inform [Accessed 10/03/21]
[3] The coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, nhs inform [Accessed 10/03/21] [Accessed 10/03/21]
[4] [Accessed 10/03/21]

Competing interests: No competing interests

11 March 2021
Anne Williams
GP Partner
Scottish Council on Human Bioethics