Sunday Note – New COVID Vaccine Likely to Appeal to Pro-Life Christian Skeptics

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Sunday Note – New COVID Vaccine Likely to Appeal to Pro-Life Christian Skeptics

Christianity Today is asking, “Could a much-delayed COVID-19 shot finally win over religious vaccine skeptics?” I’m hoping that the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

A just-approved COVID vaccine made by Novavax, a Maryland biotech, is known as NVX-CoV2373. It’s a two-dose vaccine that has is already being used to prevent COVID in 40 other countries, including the UK and Canada.

“It’s good news for many reasons,” says F. Perry Wilson, MD, a Yale Medicine nephrologist and epidemiologist. One is that this is an additional vaccine choice that may be acceptable to Americans who are not fully vaccinated, he explained to Yale Medicine. Even though Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines are safe and highly effective, “we’ve heard a lot of people say the reason they’ve chosen not to get an mRNA vaccine is because the mRNA technology is relatively new and it hasn’t been tried on a wide scale before.”

The Novavax vaccine is a more traditional vaccine. Its tried and proven technology has been used before in vaccines to prevent such conditions as:

  • shingles (GSK’s shingles vaccine, Shingrix,
  • papillomavirus (which causes cervical and other cancers),
  • DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis),
  • among others.

These are all vaccines made with a process, “which has been used for this purpose since the 1930s.

In other words, “Novavax really is the first classic vaccine option to be offered in the US.”

Novavax has another unusual selling point which is the potential to woo Christian and other faith-based vaccine skeptics who reject other widely available vaccines because of distant links to abortion they say violate their morals and their faith.

“No human fetal-derived cell lines or tissue, including HEK293 cells, are used in the development, manufacture or production of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373,” a Novavax spokesperson told Religion News Service via email.

Almost 258 million Americans, or 78% of the population have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, while nearly 221 million, or 66% of the population are considered fully vaccinated according to USAFacts.org.

Public health experts say the unvaccinated population is harboring vaccine hesitancy or outright anti-vaccine sentiment, and many are driven by faith. According to a December 2021 survey by Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core, 10 percent of Americans say they believe getting a COVID-19 vaccine conflicts with their religious beliefs.

Among the objections of my faithful brothers and sisters is that in developing or testing their vaccines, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson all used cell lines in various ways that trace their origins to aborted fetuses from the 1970s and 1980s. The most commonly used in medical laboratories are known as HEK293 and PER.C6.

Christianity Today writes:

Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, has defied Catholic Church hierarchy by taking a hardline stance against COVID-19 vaccines because of the controversial cell lines.

“I WILL NOT take an abortion tainted vaccine, I wish other bishops had joined me months ago,” Strickland tweeted in April 2021. But he linked from the tweet to an article from the website Catholic Culture, which promoted Novavax’s shot in a separate December 2020 post as “apparently developed and produced without any involvement of fetal tissues.”

Novavax CEO Stanley Erck has expressed hope his vaccine could win over vaccine skeptics in general. “In the US, the primary market I think in 2022 is going to be to supply a vaccine, our normal two-dose regimen, to a lot of people who have been hesitant to get other vaccines,” Erck told CNN in November. CT adds:

Some prominent anti-vaccine activists, such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., have been cautious but notably less hostile toward Novavax because it uses protein-based technology, a more traditional approach than the mRNA-based vaccines created by Moderna and Pfizer. The animal cells employed in its development, Novavax notes, come from moths.

Novavax says their COVID vaccine is up to 90 percent effective in preventing the original strain of COVID-19 and that it also generates an immune response against the omicron variants. Christianity Today adds:

Abby Johnson, a prominent anti-abortion activist who has repeatedly condemned many COVID-19 vaccines because of their connection to fetal cell lines, celebrated Novavax’s approach.

“It is my understanding that (Novavax) has been used successfully in several countries with a high efficacy rate,” she told RNS in a statement. “It is also my understanding that there are not any ethical concerns regarding Novavax, which is hopeful for pro-lifers who have avoided the vaccine due to those objections.”

Scientists and faith leaders have dismissed criticism of HEK293 and other cell lines, explaining that the cells used today are clones many steps removed from the original tissue and not present in the mRNA-based vaccines themselves. As CT points out:

Both the Vatican and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued statements declaring it morally permissible for Catholics to get Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson shots despite use of the cell lines.

Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, onetime adviser to former-President Donald Trump, has similarly derided the cell line argument, pointing out that they are used to develop a host of common medicines.

“Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection,” Jeffress told the Associated Press in September.

Nevertheless, many Christians have chosen to not take either an mRNA COVID vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) or the J&J COVID vaccine. My hope is that many or most will consider taking the Novavax COVID vaccine as:

  • The best I can tell it avoided the use of fetal-derived cell lines or tissue in testing or manufacturing the vaccine,
  • It’s highly safe and effective,
  • It’s FDA approved (EUA),
  • It’s made like other vaccines that Christians accept,
  • It will reduce the risk of severe COVID (hospitalization or death,
  • It will likely significantly reduce the risk of asymptomatic spread of COVID to loved ones, and
  • It will likely significantly reduce the risk of developing Long COVID.

This blog was accurate as of the day of posting. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus and the COVID vaccine develops, the information above may have changed since it was last updated. While I aim to keep all of my blogs on COVID and the COVID vaccine up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2022. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

 

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