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Unknowns of the Pfizer vaccine

| Thursday, April 8, 2021

Dear Student Body of Notre Dame, 

The recent announcement from the Office of the President mandating that all students, both undergraduate and graduate, receive the COVID-19 vaccine before the fall 2021 semester brings to the forefront the vaccine’s controversial connection to abortion. In an effort to encourage and now mandate vaccination against COVID-19, the University of Notre Dame has deliberately failed to acknowledge the morally compromised origin of the Pfizer vaccine that will be distributed to the student body. As a Catholic university dedicated to the pursuit of truth and open discussion, Notre Dame cannot shy away from this difficult discussion for the sake of convenience. We would like to take this opportunity to explain the involvement of the Pfizer vaccine with morally compromised fetal cell lines and to petition the University to instead advocate for morally acceptable vaccines that do not cooperate with the evil of abortion. 

To date, we have encountered few students who are aware of the association of the Pfizer vaccine with abortion. The administration’s official communications have made no mention of this connection and have taken on an enthusiastic tone rather than a somber one reflecting that this vaccine benefited from the murder of an innocent human being. While the Catholic Church has taught that it is not obligatory to avoid morally compromised vaccines if there is a “grave danger,” the Church also teaches us that it is our “duty to make known [our] disagreement and to ask that [our] healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.” The Church teaches that everyone, including the University, in making use of these vaccines, has a serious obligation to make known the truth and wield its voice in advocating for moral vaccines so that we do not live in a world where we are forced to choose between safeguarding our health and violating our conscience. If Our Lady’s University remains silent, it risks being complicit in creating a world where such ethically compromised vaccines are ubiquitous.  

The Pfizer vaccine made use of an aborted fetal cell line called HEK-293, for confirmatory testing during its research and development. It also likely makes ongoing use of the same cell line for quality control testing as new batches of vaccine are produced. HEK-293 stands for Human Embryonic Kidney, experiment number 293. This kidney was taken from an innocent child murdered in 1972 during an abortion in the Netherlands. There were likely multiple children killed for the purpose of gathering enough fetal tissue to facilitate the 293 experiments needed to produce the HEK-293 cell line. Bishop Athanasius Schneider of the Diocese of Astana reminds us that “when we use vaccines or medicines which utilize cell lines originating from aborted babies, we physically benefit from the “fruits” of one of the greatest evils of mankind — the cruel genocide of the unborn.” While these crimes took place in the past, the murder of innocent children in the womb for the purpose of scientific research and the trafficking of aborted fetal tissue is still extremely prevalent in our own day. Silence in regard to the use of aborted fetal cell lines encourages their broader acceptance in society and the continued murder and exploitation of the unborn for future research.

Indeed the Church teaches that it is not acceptable to use morally compromised vaccines unless there is a grave danger and there are no alternatives. We invite each of you to consider your own role in this dilemma. Do your individual circumstances regarding your health and the health of those you come into regular contact with constitute a grave danger that warrants the acceptance of a morally compromised vaccine? If your answer is yes and you do choose to get the vaccine, I urge you to write to Pfizer and demand ethical alternatives in the future. However, we believe it is also worth considering the broader picture. In the United States, more lives are lost to abortion each year than have been lost in the course of this entire pandemic. This statistic is not to downplay the tragic impact of COVID-19, but rather to put into perspective the modern holocaust that plagues our society. As John Paul II said in his 1988 letter Christifideles Laici, we have an obligation to defend the unborn with “maximum determination” and we urge you to make your decision regarding this vaccine reflect such conviction.

Actions speak louder than words and the strongest form of opposition is to refuse this abortion tainted vaccine outright. As students in an age group with an extremely low mortality from COVID-19 and who largely live and interact with peers of the same age group, we have the opportunity to wait for an ethical vaccine, the soonest of which could be ready in a matter of months. An ethically sourced vaccine made by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi entered human trials in March of this year. They are scheduled to start the production of 100 million doses later this year, some of which, with the cooperation of the University, could be made available to students this fall.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a letter signed by our own Bishop Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort-Wayne South Bend states that “Catholics and men and women of good will must continue to do what we can to ensure the development, production, and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine without any connection to abortion and to help change what has become the standard practice in much medical research, a practice in which certain morally compromised cell lines are routinely used as a matter of course, with no consideration of the moral question concerning the origins of those cell lines.”

We join with Bishop Rhoades in calling on all people of good will, and specifically the University, to do all they can to ensure the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine with no connection to one of the greatest evils of mankind. We ask the University to make the Sanofi or another ethically acceptable vaccine available to the student body this fall. We also implore the University to promote and defend our freedom of conscience with regard to accepting the vaccine and not coerce students to take a vaccine against their will. We remind the University that the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith stated thatthe vaccination is not a moral obligation” and in light of its connection to abortion, “it must be voluntary.”

We should not accept a world where vaccines derived from abortion are so commonplace that their use is not given a word of mention by the administration at a Catholic university. Going forward, more and more vaccines will be developed immorally if we continue in silence. As University founder Fr. Edward Sorin said, the University has an opportunity to be “one of the most powerful forces for doing good in the country.” Let us, the students, faculty, and staff of Notre Dame, be a force for good and advocate for a morally acceptable vaccine that does not cooperate with the evil of abortion.


Christopher Romanoski
Master’s Candidate
Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
Joseph Klatt
Master’s Candidate
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences
April 6

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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