Vaccines 3 - Ethical Concerns for the Christian

In this issue, we will continue our look into the various aspects of vaccinations. In the first article (two issues ago), I hoped to have demonstrated that vaccines, in addition to good nutrition and hygiene, are responsible for eradicating (or nearly eradicating) a number of diseases – small pox being one such example. We looked at the concept of Herd Immunity, and how it takes a cooperative community of vaccinated individuals to protect those who are more vulnerable - those truly allergic to vaccinations, and those whose bodies do not gain immunity even after being vaccinated. In the second article (last issue), we looked at Autism and the repercussions of research that wasn’t meticulous, and the need to stay above reproach when doing such research. We considered several large studies that could not find a link between vaccines and Autism or even a link between the age at which vaccination begins and Autism. We did note, however, a correlation with affluence, the age of the parents, and geography – and how the Amish tend to have a much lower rate than the society around them. I suggested that more study was needed, though the results may not be what the world is looking for – that of a family-focused home possibly being healthier for children than a career-focused one. 
We left off with the idea that the medical community doesn’t always pursue that which is true; seemingly adopting the attitude that if you can’t stand the answer, don’t ask the question. Sometimes their pursuit is focused more on what is practical. Today, I hope to show that what may be practical is not always wise. More importantly, I hope to show how something that seems exceedingly small can have an impact on our lives in a way that is exceedingly great. Jesus warned us of this concept: Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. -Matthew 16:6 What I am about to discuss may be somewhat unsettling to some. But the story must be told, lest we be unaware of, or our senses become dulled to, the leaven that finds its way into our lives through such seemingly disconnected things as vaccines. The details are factual, verified by myself from multiple sources. They are not opinion nor hearsay. I will supply source information at the end of this article for those who desire to do further research. 
On a drizzly morning in mid-June 1962, a young scientist, 34 years of age, anxiously awaited a package from Stockholm, Sweden’s Bromma Airport. When the package arrived at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, housed in an elegant 1890’s brownstone building in the heart of the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia, the man carefully opened it, revealing a glass flask packed in ice. In it floated two purple objects, each about an inch long, enveloped in a clear pink fluid. This was not his first such package, as it would eventually provide the source material for his 38th in a series of experiments. The contents of this particular package, however, would change the world of virology and vaccine science forever. 
Several days earlier, a woman in her 30’s, living near Stockholm, had undergone an abortion. In Sweden, abortion was legalized in 1938 if the condition of a continued pregnancy would seriously endanger the woman’s health or life. (In the U.S.A., it was not legalized until 1973). Prior to surgery, she explained that she already had several children and that her husband was an unsupportive alcoholic who had done prison time. He was described by their primary care physician as being mentally subpar. The medical justification for the abortion was, “general weakness.” The baby was a girl, 20cm (approximately 8 in) long, 16-17 weeks in gestation. She was wrapped in a sterile green cloth, then taken to the virology department of the Karolinska Institute, where her lungs were dissected out. From there, the tissue was sent by air to the Wistar Institute in the United States to undergo the aforementioned experiments. 
One of the main focuses of the Wistar Institute at that time was to develop vaccines. Vaccines work by exposing the body to a weakened or dead form of the virus, so the body can “learn” what that specific virus “looks” like without harming the patient through a full exposure to the disease. That way, when our body “sees” it, for example, when we are exposed to someone infected with the virus, our body can attack and kill it before we get infected ourselves. The problem is that the viruses which are used to manufacture many vaccines can only grow on live tissue. Viruses are also very finicky – they will only grow on certain types of tissue, and this tissue must be constantly replenished to provide more growth medium to grow more viruses that will be used for more vaccines. So, for example, if the polio virus only grows on human and monkey tissue, the only ethical source of providing tissue to grow the virus on would be to catch or raise a constant supply of monkeys . . . unless . . . (as the thinking went) there could be a way of providing large amounts of live human tissue. 
Another concern of growing vaccines on animal tissue was the issue of contamination. The Salk vaccine, for example, licensed in 1955, helped reduce the number of cases of paralytic polio from about 21,000 in 1952, to about 6,000 in 1959. However, some of the monkey kidney tissue which grew the viruses that were used in the vaccine was found to be harboring an additional virus (SV40) that had been picked up in the wild. Up to 30 million people in the U.S. may have received vaccines contaminated with SV40. There was a concern that this new virus could cause cancer in people. Something had to be done. This is where our young scientist comes in.
Dr. Hayflick, the scientist, discovered that, under the right laboratory conditions, human tissue (fetal tissue) could be induced to grow almost indefinitely. In actuality, it could double about 50 times before the cells would die of old age. Furthermore, the tissue was promoted as being “clean” – not contaminated from the environment, as was the monkey tissue obtained from the wild. This specific source material was called “WI-38” – being the 38th fetus so experimented on in the Wistar Institute by Dr. Hayflick. Most of the original tissue “stock” was frozen in several hundred ampules after it was first allowed to multiply. They intended to restart its growth cycle as it was needed, after being thawed. In all, (theoretically), those two 1-inch specimens of lung tissue could produce 22 million tons of tissue!  
Doesn’t sound true? I’d like you to do a math calculation: How much money would you have if you started with a penny, but doubled the amount 50 times (1c - 2c - 4c - 8c - 16c . . .)? The answer is that you’d be a trillionaire, with $5,600,000,000,000 (2exp49 cents or 249 cents) to be more precise! For you farmers, if you started with a grain of wheat and doubled it 50 times, assuming 15,000 grains per pound, at 60#/bushel, and 100 bushels/acre, you’d have 625 million bushels, or the equivalent yield from a farm of 6.3 million acres!  
About this same period of time, in the mid-1950s, Rubella was recognized as the tiny virus (1000 times smaller than the cells it invaded) that was responsible for producing cataracts, deafness, heart defects, and learning disabilities in newborns (this was called Congenital Rubella Syndrome, or “CRS”). This developed when the mothers got German measles, especially in the 1st trimester of pregnancy. To everyone else, it was a simple and relatively mild viral illness with a low-grade fever and self-limited rash. Up to 2/3 of people who are infected don’t even realize they have it. Symptoms, if they were evident at all, did not show up until 12-23 days after the initial infection, making containment of the illness even more difficult.  
A pediatrician at the Wistar Institute, a Dr. Plotkin, was assigned to develop a vaccine after an outbreak in 1964-1965 infected an estimated 12.5 million Americans, leaving roughly 20,000 infants with this Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). Of this number, 8,000 were deaf, 4,000 deaf and blind, and 1,800 had an intellectual disability. The rest were left with other problems like heart defects. Dr. Plotkin’s plan was to grow the virus on WI-38, weaken the virus, then immunize women who were of child bearing age and children (who might spread it to their moms at home), so as to prevent any developing baby from becoming infected in the womb. He was sent a viral specimen taken from an Army recruit at Fort Dix from the Merck company, that was also developing a vaccine. (They were using another strain, obtained from an 8-year-old boy from Philadelphia.) Yet another specimen was provided to him from colleagues in England. However, he reasoned, he wanted to get as “clean” a specimen as possible, without environmental contaminants. The answer: another fetus needed to be found - one that had been infected.
During this same epidemic, if a woman had a rash during her first trimester, testing would take up to 4 weeks to determine if she had Rubella. Many women, too anxious to wait, chose to end their pregnancies. Once diagnosed, almost half of these women chose the same. Dr. Plotkin was sent a number of the remains of these babies. Of the 31 he was sent, 17 were found to be infected (14 were normal). He chose fetus #27, a 14-week gestation boy from a 25-year-old woman who was exposed and infected at 8 weeks.  He named the virus “RA 27/3”: “RA” from “Rubella Abortus,” “27” from the 27th baby, and “3” from the 3rd organ harvested (a kidney – used because it seems to grow the best). This virus was then grown and harvested on WI-38, with a small sample from each “batch” “starting” a new one as needed. Many of you know the vaccine by its common name: the MMR (the “R” is for Rubella, with the MM meaning that it also contains the Mumps and Measles vaccines as well). 
In the same way rabies, adenovirus, polio, measles, chickenpox and shingles viruses have been grown on this tissue line (WI-38) and so it has been used in producing millions of vaccines. After 660 million doses of the WI-38 based Rubella vaccine worldwide, CRS has been verified as eliminated from North and South America since 2015. Because of Herd Immunity (discussed in the first article), if a stray case is introduced, it usually dies out, since there is a high enough rate of immunization. Non-immune individuals are thus given “protection” without vaccination. The last major outbreak of Rubella in the U.S. originated among the Amish in 1991 (starting with a missionary returning from the Philippines), affecting 400 of our plain brothers and sisters in four states. (This was out of a total of 1093 cases that year.) Of these Amish, 89 women had a Rubella like illness during pregnancy. There were 10 confirmed cases of CRS (with an additional one from a conservative Mennonite family) and seven more possible cases. While there are still approximately 100,000 babies born with CRS each year, the vast majority are in countries outside the Americas that do not routinely provide the vaccine. 
So, What’s the Problem? 
Here are some of the most common responses I’ve heard (some from plain people) who do not see a big problem with using these vaccines:
1. Since this cell line is essentially immortal, no more abortions will be needed. 
In theory, this may have been true. However, another cell line (MRC-5) was developed at about the same time by competing scientists, racing to develop alternative vaccines. The British developed MRC-5, which came from the lung tissue of a 14-week male terminated for “psychiatric” reasons in 1966. It is currently used in the production of a large number of vaccines (See Table). Furthermore, Dr. Hayflick and the Wistar Institute had a falling out over money and his feeling of a lack of recognition.  In February 1971, the doctor took the remaining original “seed” stock of 375 frozen ampules (out of an original amount of up 1024 ampules) and put them in a liquid nitrogen container in his family sedan and drove across the country to take another research position in California. By 1975, after years of litigation, only seven ampules of the remaining “seed” stock remained, most ruined by contamination and breakage. (Though, due to the power of exponential growth, that is still enough for hundreds of millions more vaccines.)  Still, the government (National Institute of Health) developed IMR-90, which came from a female fetus in the early 1970s, as a replacement for WI-38 due to stock depletion.  Since that time, there have been a number of other cell lines developed. For example, HEK-293 (aborted about 1972) and PER C6 (from an 18-week fetus eye tissue aborted for “social” reasons in 1985) have been used in a number of other vaccines and pharmaceuticals that are in development. Realize again that these “finished product” level cell lines are only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of unborn children that have been experimented on, in order to furnish the end product. The patenting and marketing of vaccines and biologicals has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, led by WI-38. Does this terminology sound too uncomfortably commercialized? If there are no moral qualms (especially amongst God’s people) over this type of use of human beings, there is little to satisfy this type of insatiable appetite for more material.  
2. There is no longer any “fetal tissue” after so many cell divisions.
On a cellular basis, it is correct to say that the actual cells from the fetus taken in 1962 no longer exist – they have divided and divided, over and over to make new cells. In the same way, aside from some nerve tissue, WE humans are not the same person that we were when we were born (our original cells have all long ago ceased to exist). However, on a molecular level, the same is not true. Even after so many replications, some of the water, amino acid, protein and other various molecules that made up that original tissue are likely to have passed through to the vaccines produced – even today.
3. The tissue was donated by the family, so it is no different from when we use other donated tissue.
In the situation of the baby that resulted in WI-38, the mother was actually not asked. The tissue was regarded as medical waste, and so was regarded as abandoned property. The mother was also contacted for a book on the subject, and when she found out about the situation, she was very upset, stating, “They were doing this without my knowledge. That cannot be allowed today.” Even if she had been asked, it would be highly inappropriate to authorize the donation of tissue from a family member who had authorized the death of that individual.  It would be like asking the mother of a child she killed by physical child abuse for permission to use the body “for science”. Likewise, would it be OK for Christians to use organs donated by a foreign repressive government if those organs came from executed political prisoners – even if the government had the authority to do so? "This is not a theoretical dilemma - there witnesses and there is very strong evidence that this has happened, and is happening, to even persecuted Christians (and others) in foreign lands."
4. There was no other way to get a “pure” specimen, since there was a concern about contamination.
Vaccine developers say that though unfortunate, it was necessary to use the aborted fetal tissue for the sake of obtaining a pure specimen. The truth of the matter is that cell lines could have been derived from the donated tissue of unborn or stillborn children miscarried as a result of trauma (versus infection) while still maintaining the necessary sterility. When my son was killed in a tractor accident in 2010, my wife and I donated some of his tissue so that others could live. This is no different.
5. The abortion would have happened anyway, so why not turn this tragedy into a benefit? 
As non-resistant Bible-believing Christians, we should be very familiar with this line of thinking. Please allow me to put it in another way that is more recognizable. The war will be fought regardless of whether or not plain people participate, so why shouldn’t we make the best of it by joining the fight and hope for a win from “our side”? Or this: Young people are going to be promiscuous anyway, so why shouldn’t we put them on birth control to avoid a “bad situation”? These arguments all share the same line of reasoning – the ends are justified by whatever means are necessary. Though many people who call themselves Christian use this way of thinking, it is not from Christ, who chose to do “not my will, but thine.” (Luke 22:42)
6. The abortion that resulted in WI-38 happened 56 years ago, so it has little bearing on our use of it today.
Yes, our culture and even we ourselves have benefited from the misfortune of others over the years, but that does not give us liberty to continue to do so. How can God bless this? Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, -Deuteronomy 5:9.
The Solution
The Rubella vaccine has proven to be effective, easily evidenced by its elimination where it has been used. It has easily saved millions of children from death (mainly through miscarriage) and life-long disability. Having researched this particular issue for over 20 years, I am convinced that the use of aborted babies in the development of this vaccine was a matter of worldly convenience and expediency, not a grand conspiracy to get Christians to compromise principles. At the same time, the hallmark of medical ethics is something called “informed consent” – as parents, we should be advised of all the risks and benefits before receiving a treatment or therapy. 
Should Christians still benefit from the misfortune of others? Certainly, obtaining a benefit from something that God hates (the shedding of innocent blood - according to Proverbs 6:17) places us into spiritual danger.  This is something we need to know about before making our decision. On the other hand, even if we don’t get vaccinations, we still get a “free ride” (from Herd Immunity), yet at the same time, we are potentially putting our neighbors in physical jeopardy, since we would thereby be compromising this Herd Immunity. What should the Christian do? 
Because Rubella has been eliminated in this country (for now), vaccinating for it is almost exclusively for the protection of the community (by Herd Immunity) and not the individual, as the chances of “catching” it is almost zero (the Amish CRS children in 1991 show it is not impossible, neither is a resurgence if the unvaccinated are exposed again). It is the selfless act of a community pulling together to eliminate disease - if it can be done in good conscience. For many of these “tainted” vaccines, there ARE ethical alternatives (see the included Table showing the “tainted vaccines” and the “ethical alternatives”). Our (my wife's and my) children were all vaccinated with the Japanese version of the Rubella vaccine. There are no ethical problems with this vaccine, though it was no easy task to accomplish. When our society, including most Christian doctors, have not objected, there is no drive to develop or make available these alternatives. 
We have Voluntary Service for our young people to serve the community in nursing homes, camps for troubled youth, and by constructing housing for the poor. Importing and using these ethical alternatives is simply another way that our people can serve our community in a tangible, sacrificial way. 
Most importantly, what does the Bible say?
Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: 1 Corinthians 5:7
In this age of desensitization, in which a small leaven leavens the whole lump, we need to carefully consider that if we benefit in small part from the evil of abortion, we are not likely to vehemently reject it. Once this precedence is established in our hearts, then other such evils that may come along in the future will have the same tendency.  
Now that we have discussed some of the spiritual risks of some vaccines, next issue we will look at some of the physical risks. By the end of this series, I hope you will have a good idea of the major risks and benefits of vaccines before making these important decisions for your family.

Further Reading - Outlines ethical vaccine alternatives
The Vaccine Race, Meredith Wadman, Viking Press, 2017. This detailed book outlines the history of the WI-38 cell line and the Rubella vaccine from a humanist perspective. I have cross checked much of the information, and have found it to be true, though our conclusions differ.

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