by MICHAEL OTTO
WELLINGTON — Australian researchers have listed ethically compromised vaccines for rubella, polio, chickenpox, shingles, hepatitis A and rabies available in New Zealand, as well as ethical alternatives that can be chosen in some cases.
The Catholic Church teaches that some vaccines are ethically compromised, as the virus used in their production is cultured in human diploid cell lines that were originally developed from tissue from an aborted foetus.
Writing in the April and August editions of The Nathaniel Report, the director of the Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics in Melbourne, Fr Kevin McGovern, and researcher Kerri Anne Brussen, note that, particularly when the health of children and pregnant women is at stake, there is no support for refusal of vaccination against serious disease, even if the only vaccine available is ethically compromised.
This was explained in 2005 by the Pontifical Academy for Life, which also taught that health professionals and patients should pressure authorities so that ethically acceptable vaccines become available, and that where a choice exists, there is a “grave responsibility” to choose a vaccine that is not ethically compromised.
Fr McGovern and Ms Brussen note that there are no safe or effective alternatives to the ethically compromised rubella component of the MMR vaccine administered at 15 months and four years in New Zealand. They advocate vaccination in line with the recommendations of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
But they recommend using ethically acceptable vaccines against polio. Vaccination against this disease occurs in combination with other vaccines given at six weeks, three and five months. Two ethically acceptable vaccines, Infanrix-hexa and Boostrix-IPV, are the ones listed on the New Zealand immunisation schedule, “so the issue of being offered vaccination with an ethically compromised poliovirus vaccine is unlikely”, they wrote.
But some people can choose to use other vaccines against polio, and the Quadricel and Poliacel vaccines are ethically compromised, so the authors recommend using an uncompromised vaccine where available.
There is no ethical alternative to the current chickenpox vaccine, which is not part of the immunisation schedule, but is recommended for children aged 12 months to 12 years. So the authors recommend vaccination even though this vaccine is ethically compromised.
A similar situation exists regarding vaccination against shingles for older people, but the authors recommend that people discuss the need for this with their doctors. “Some people may decide to abstain from this ethically compromised vaccine if they can do so without posing a serious threat to their own health or to the health of others.”
There is also no ethical alternative to the hepatitis A vaccine, which is not part of the immunisation schedule, but is recommended for chronic carriers of hepatitis B and C, people with chronic liver disease and some workers who could be exposed. The researchers recommend vaccination in these cases.
But a choice does exist for vaccination against rabies, which is encouraged for travellers to countries where this disease is common. Verorab is considered less ethically compromised than MIRV, the researchers write, so the former is recommended if available.
However, if a person is exposed to rabies, vaccination should never be refused, even if only an ethically compromised vaccine is available, they write.
In conclusion, the researchers advised that people can check whether a vaccine is ethically compromised by consulting the manufacturer’s product description, which should include the cell line or method of culturing of the virus in the vaccine.
“Any vaccine that is cultured in human diploid cells, most often MRC-5 or WI-38, or in a cell line described as human embryonic, is ethically compromised.”
The Pontifical Academy’s statement can be found at www.cogforlife.org/vaticanresponse.htm

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