COVID Vaccine Redux – 2023-24 Season

As expected the FDA has now approved updated COVID vaccines, all of which are reformulated to target the newest COVID variant (XBB.1.5).

We are certainly in a different place now that we were in when we published our thoughts on COVID vaccines in the Fall of 2021 and Winter/Spring of 2022. The pandemic phase of COVID is officially over (as of May 11, 2023) and we are not, at the moment, talking about vaccine mandates.

However, we are not in a different place when it comes to the moral issue associated with COVID vaccine production and testing.

There are currently three FDA-approved vaccines, including from: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and (most recently) Novavax. While each of these have been updated to target the current COVID variant, their methods of production remain the same. Pfizer and Modera are still mRNA-based technology while Novavax is protein-based. All three have in common their viral target (the so-called “spike protein”).

USA Today has a good overview of these three vaccines. The bottom line is that they are likely to be equally effective and have similar side effect profiles.

From a moral compromise standpoint, the Charlotte Lozier Institute provides a good overview here (PDF). Based on their schema, they are all equal from moral standpoint. All three avoid the use of abortion-derived cell lines in the Design/Development and Production phases while using HEK293 cells in the Confirmatory Lab Testing phase.

On a related note, there was discussion in 2021 that Pfizer may produce an influenza and/or RSV vaccines using mRNA technology, though this has not yet come to be, though stay tuned. Keep in mind that some of the discomfort “out there” with the mRNA vaccines has to do with their newness (and so lack of long-term safety data), some with the use of HEK293 cells, and some from other considerations. If/When mRNA-based influenza and/or RSV (or other) vaccines come to market, their moral status will need to be considered one-by-one.

We should also keep in mind that vaccines are not the only places in which one finds abortion-derived fetal cells…

An additional, excellent, resource for vaccine-related ethical questions is the NCBC’s Vaccine Resources.