Roy Exum: I’m Not A Christian?

Friday, March 5, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The email read: “I cannot comprehend how killing unborn babies and using their tissue in medicine is obedience to Christ.” Earlier in the email the writer acknowledged that I publicly state I am a Christian “… then I see a huge problem with your characterization of (the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine as a ‘Godsend.’) “Killing babies for their parts is not from God, it is evil and clearly from the enemy.”

Well, dash me with a bucket of ice water. Please, any size of a jerk who wants to make folly of my deeply held Christian beliefs in order to tell me that the J&J vaccine “is the first one (so far) to use aborted fetal cells in the vaccine itself” should immediately grasp his own Bible and read, Exodus 20, verses 2 through 17. Pay close attention to the 12th verse where No. 9 of ‘The Ten Commandments’ warns, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” In short, that’s not to tell or spread a lie. And I’m pointing my finger …

Guess what? There are absolutely no fetal cells in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. There are none in the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines either. That is nothing but religious hysteria and it is poppycock.

The truth is that scientists at J&J subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals used a stem cell line, one that was collected from an aborted fetus in the Netherlands almost 50 years ago, to help in the creation and testing of what is very much a Godsend in the United States. In the development of our two other vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, stem cell lines were also used in development. So far, 16.4 percent of Americans (82.5 million) have taken the first of two vaccinations. 

Over half-million Americans have died in less than a year, but by the end of March, J&J will spread 4 million doses among us. And, by the end of the year? A billion. The J&J vaccine can be stored in regular refrigeration for about a year, and because it is a one-dose inoculation, its arrival is very much a Godsend to Third World countries. It will most assuredly save million upon millions of lives. I believe God wants all of his children to live. For an eternity, too!

At the time I wrote my Tuesday column ballyhooing the arrival of this third vaccine (“J&J Vaccine A Godsend,”, 3-2-2021), I had no idea what was in the vial. Now that I have heard and read more, I couldn’t care less. But yesterday, medical writer Claire Gillespie, writing on Health magazine, said the J&J was a huge step toward:

* * *


- - - Here's what the controversy is all about. - - -

By Claire Gillespie

(NOTE: This article appeared on the website on March 04, 2021)

A few days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine on February 27, the vaccine has become a controversial talking point.

Earlier this week, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans urged its parishioners to avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, calling it "morally compromised" because it was developed and tested using cells derived from aborted fetal tissue, reported NBC News on March 2.

The stance conflicts with that of the Vatican, which said in December that it was "morally acceptable" for Roman Catholics to receive any COVID-19 vaccine, even one based on research that originally used cells derived from aborted fetuses.

If you don't have a solid grasp of human biology, this is where it gets pretty confusing. To be clear, there are no vaccines that involve stem cells from aborted fetuses.

"Stem cells are cells that can differentiate (develop) into many different types of other cells or tissues," Brianne Barker, PhD, associate professor of biology at Drew University in New Jersey, tells Health. "The first type of stem cells that were found were embryonic stem cells coming from embryos. Scientists have now figured out how to make other cells into stem cells (called iPS or 'induced pluripotent stem cells'), meaning that embryos do not have to be used."

However, some vaccines are developed with cells that came from fetuses, although those cells are not classified as stem cells. "These are known as cell lines, which can divide indefinitely in the lab," Barker says.

Johnson & Johnson confirmed in a statement released Tuesday that the vaccine formula itself includes no fetal tissue. So, what does make their COVID-19 vaccine so much more controversial than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

The particular cells that are involved in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are called PerC6 cells. "These are retinal cells that came from a fetus that was aborted in 1985 in the Netherlands, which were treated in the lab to allow them to reproduce in lab settings since that time," Barker explains.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are different—they involve HEK293 cells, which also came from an aborted fetus in the Netherlands (in 1973). These cells have also been reproducing in lab settings since that time, Barker says.

The mRNA of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is not made in the HEK293 cells, but the cells are used for testing of these vaccines in early steps of studying the vaccines. "Specifically, the mRNAs are first put into these cells to ensure that the mRNA has no toxicity and is safe," Barker says. "The mRNAs are also put into these cells to make sure that it leads to the production of the correct protein (in this case, the Spike protein from SARS-CoV2)."

On the other hand, the PerC6 cells are used in making the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

"It's an inactivated virus vectored vaccine, which means that it is a disabled virus called adenovirus 26 that contains the DNA to make the Spike protein in addition to some portions of the adenovirus genome," Barker explains. "In order to make the vaccine, the scientists give PerC6 cells DNA so that they can make the parts of the virus and build that molecular machine—basically the PerC6 cells are the factories that make the vaccine for us."

Barker adds that viruses and viral vectors can't be made in a test tube (like the mRNA vaccines are), so they have to be made in some kind of cell. "PerC6 cells are the commonly used cells in the adenovirus vector field for making viruses and is known for being safe and reliable."

Also, human cells have to be used for this process, because they're the only ones that contain the correct sugars to add to the proteins.

A 2015 report from the Congressional Research Service explains that "cultured cells mimic many of the properties that they have in a living body, and therefore can be used as a model for researchers studying basic biological processes."

"These cells (especially HEK293 cells) have been used in the lab to make many different vaccines and many biologic drugs like drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis," Barker says.

As the moral debate around the Johnson & Johnson vaccine continues, David Doukas, MD, chair of humanities and ethics at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, told NBC News that most Catholics will realize it's rare to be given a choice of one vaccine over another—and that they should take what's available.

"If you need it now and you got one in front of you now, what do you take? The one you have in front of you now," Dr. Doukas told NBC News. However, he added that providers should make it clear what type of vaccine they're administering. "Since a lot of things we do in life are faith-based decisions, it would be prudent to at least let people know," he said.

- - -

DISCLAIMER: The information in this story is accurate as of press time (3-4-2021). However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While is trying to keep our stories as up to date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the State of Tennessee Coronavirus website page and the Hamilton County Dept. of Health www.

* * *

THE JOHNS HOPKINS Coronavirus Dashboard was just named as the top invention in the world for year 2020 by Time Magazine. Ironically, as it was announced on Thursday, the website got its one billionth (with a ‘b’) hit during the news briefing. And again, this is still inside a year.

* * *

ON TUESDAY, quite out of step with the Pope in the Vatican, the Archdiocese of New Orleans decreed no Catholics should take the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Shortly thereafter, the Bishop Richard Stika announced, “For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we as a Church find it to be morally questionable. However, there are going to be situations where you are forced to accept it as the only choice. It would be different if your main intention is to seek out that particular type of vaccine, but at some point, you might not have a choice. God will understand that,” Bishop Stika said.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend said, “Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested, and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.’” the Catholic pronouncement read.

“However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.”

However, in Chattanooga, TN., writer Roy Exum instead sided with what Dr. Paul Ofitt told CNN: “One dose will keep you out of the hospital, keep you out of the intensive care unit, and keep you out of the morgue," said Dr. Ofitt.

He needn’t sign such a prescription.

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