This article appears in the February 1999 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

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Alternatives to vaccines made from aborted babies

Catherine Williams

Note. This article primarily concerns vaccines used in the UK. Different vaccines will be available in different countries. However many of the vaccines mentioned are distributed worldwide.


As parents strongly opposed to abortion, my husband and I were very concerned to learn that many childhood vaccines are manufactured from the cell lines of aborted babies. We succeeded in obtaining alternative polio, measles and mumps vaccines for our children, but were told that no alternative rubella vaccine existed. During the mass measles vaccination campaign in 1994 we did not allow our children to have the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine provided by the government. Our children received instead a measles-only vaccine derived from animal cells. I have continued to try to find alternative vaccines both from the UK and elsewhere. I have recently obtained a rubella vaccine from Japan. Our own children and eight others have recently received this vaccination. This vaccine is derived from rabbit cells. Though widely used in Japan for fifteen years, it is not licensed for use in the UK. However it can be obtained and administered by GPs.

I am writing this article to provide the information I have obtained to other concerned parents. With this information, you will be able to determine whether the vaccines administered to your children are derived from aborted babies, and to decide whether to seek out the alternatives.



Some common vaccines, including the rubella component of all MMR vaccines worldwide except Japan, are produced from cell lines derived from the tissue of aborted babies. Two cell lines commonly used are MRC-5 (Medical Research Council 5) and WI-38 (Wistar Institute 38). MRC-5 originates from the lung tissue taken from a 14 week male fetus aborted for "psychiatric reasons" from a 27 year old woman in the UK in the 1970s. WI-38 originates from a female fetus aborted for "psychiatric reasons" in the 1960s. These abortions were not done for the purpose of producing vaccines.


Ethical objections to the use of vaccines produced from fetal cell lines

In general, those with objections to abortion will consider any use of material from aborted fetuses to be ethically dubious. This is not always taken as a conclusive argument against the use of these vaccines (especially when no alternatives are available), but it is a serious consideration for many Roman Catholics, Muslims, and members of other religions, and of none, who are opposed to abortion.

We consider it unethical to use vaccines from fetal cell lines for the following reasons:-

Vaccine Production

Vaccines for viral diseases need to be grown on living cells. Cell lines are often used. This involves taking cells from an animal or aborted baby and growing them for many generations in a laboratory. Viral infections for which vaccines are available include Measles, Mumps, Rubella (German measles) Rabies, Hepatitis A, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and influenza. Vaccine production for bacterial infections does not involve cell lines, human or animal. Bacterial infections for which vaccines are given include Whooping Cough, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid, Tuberculosis and HIV.

Vaccines made from fetal cells

The following list of vaccines licensed and commonly used in the UK are derived from fetal cell lines.



Cell lines (Human fetal)

Polio Wellcome, Medeva


MMR II (Rubella component) Pasteur Merieux MSD (RA27/3 strain)


Measles Mumps Rubella (Priorix) SmithKline Beecham


Rubella (Ervevax) SmithKline Beecham


Rabies (HDCV) (Imovax) Pasteur Merieux


Hepatitis A (Havarix) SmithKline Beecham


Hepatitis A (Avaxim) Pasteur Merieux




I have found alternative vaccines for the following childhood and travel immunisations made from animal cell lines which we consider to be ethical. This list does not include all ethical vaccines in the world but only those from companies frequently used in the UK. The alternatives are:-

    L = licensed. UL = Unlicensed in the UK



Source of cell line

Polio L

Monkey kidney

Mumps (Mumpsvac) [Jeryl Lynn strain] Provaccine, Switserland

Chick embryo

Rubella UL Kitasato Institute, Japan

Rabbit kidney

Rabies (RVA) UL SmithKline Beecham (Only available in US)

Rhesus monkey

Rabies (Rab Avert) (PCEC) UL Chiron Behring GmbH & Co

Chick embryo

Hepatitis A (Aimmugen) UL Chemo-Sero-therapeutic Institute, Japan

Monkey kidney

Yellow Fever (only vaccine licenced) L Aprilvax

Chick embryo

Japanese Encephalitis (JE-Vax) UL Pasteur Merieux

Chick embryo

Influenza all brands L Wyeth Labs, Pasteur Merieux, SmithKline Beecham, Evans Solvay Healthcare Ltd

Chick embryo

Note: We previously listed Moraten Berna Measles vaccine (Berna Institute, Switzerland) as manufactured from chick embryo cells. However, a recently ordered dose was grown on human diploid (fetal) cells. We are trying to clarify the situation.


Rubella vaccine

Note that the Kitasato Institute rubella vaccine is not licensed for use in the UK at present. It is only Japan which uses animal cell lines for rubella vaccine. All other vaccines in the world use fetal cell lines. The Kitasato Institute has kindly agreed to supply their vaccine. They have made it clear that no compensation is available outside Japan for any side effects as a result of the vaccine in line with Japanese law. Your doctor can obtain this vaccine by contacting IDIS World medicines in London. Your doctor must agree to take responsibility for injecting the vaccine and must sign that he will make no claim against the Kitasato Institute. The vaccine must not be passed on to a third party. As an unlicensed vaccine, it is only available on a named patient basis. This vaccine gives 98.9% immunity. Side effects are rare and usually mild. They include joint pain, swelling of the lymph glands or a rash. These disappear in a few days. There have been reports of serious allergic reactions at around 1 in 100,000 cases. This is probably due to gelatin allergy. In the fifteen years up to 1996 (the latest time from which evidence is available), no serious complications were reported.

Full details of the vaccine are available from IDIS or from us. We can also supply sample patient consent forms for doctors.


Rubella Immunoglobulin

We have become aware that there is a treatment available to non-immune women unfortunate enough to come in contact with rubella during pregnancy. A handicapped baby or abortion are not the only options. This is called Rubegam IM and is available from Natal Bioproducts Institute. The manufacturers state "rubella immunoglobulin may afford some protection against congenital rubella when used in pregnant patients who are in the first few mouths of pregnancy but will not consider termination of pregnancy." It is appalling that this seems, to be offered as a last line of defence only after a woman has considered abortion, and is not initially offered to all women at risk. Obviously the possibility that handicap could be avoided would affect the mother's decision whether to have an abortion. On the dozens of Internet pages devoted to rubella this treatment seems to be either unheard of or ignored. Only two sites apart from the SAEPI site mention it. The Merck manual states "Women exposed to rubella early in pregnancy should be informed about the potential risks to the fetus, and termination of pregnancy should be considered. Some authorities recommend administration of immune globulin (0.55ml/Kg) for exposure early in pregnancy." Another site, Anti viral therapy, states "Passive immunisation with anti-rubella immunoglobulin is used in rare instances when therapeutic abortion is unacceptable and fetal monitoring is possible." Many sites consider congenital rubella syndrome to be the inevitable consequence of not receiving a vaccine. Although the effectiveness of rubella immunoglobulin is doubted by some authorities, it must be worth trying. Also, only 20-25% of babies whose mothers contract rubella are affected in any way, and some cases are very mild and treatable. It seems that abortion is recommended when mothers contract rubella even if four out of five babies are totally healthy. Rubella immunoglobulin does not appear to be available in the UK.

It is vital that women keep their immunity up to date with vaccination to avoid the risks. We would hope, considering the importance of the vaccine, that GPs and medical authorities would co-operate fully with requests for the alternative animal cell line rubella vaccine from Japan.


Rabies vaccine

The rabies vaccine used in the UK is immovax (HDCV human diploid cell vaccine) produced by Pasteur Merieux from MRC-5. This is also the most widely used rabies vaccine in the USA. However, also licensed by the FDA (Federal Drugs Administration), are another human diploid vaccine DCO, -a vaccine from a cell line of fetal rhesus monkeys (above) and a vaccine grown on chick embryo cells (PCEC). It should be noted that the human protein remaining in the HDCV, even after purification, has been shown to produce an allergic reaction due to interaction with one of the other components in 6% of patients (reference Michigan Department of Health). Therefore pre-exposure doses of this vaccine are limited despite the necessity of keeping immunity up in those at risk. PCEC also contains trace elements of human protein which have been reported to have produced allergic reactions. PCEC is also cheaper and easier to produce than HDCV according to the FDA.


Use of unlicensed vaccines

It is possible to use unlicensed vaccines in the UK with the agreement of your doctor (and probably his/her insurers). It is up to you and your doctor to access any risk and take responsibility for using them. You will probably be required to pay for them. The vaccines we have listed, apart from the Japanese rubella vaccine, are from countries and companies frequently used and trusted in the UK. We have suggested licensed products where possible: unfortunately there are no licensed alternatives for rubella, Hepatitis A and rabies.


Lack of Government action

The Government had been aware that many people are opposed to vaccines from fetal cell lines since 1993 when Ann Winterton MP put down a Parliamentary Question on the subject. This was answered by Tom Sackville. He gave no new information, ruled out the labelling of vaccines produced from fetal cell lines and stated "that a switch to the use of other materials would cause major supply problems, probably for many years and the production of rubella and hepatitis A vaccines would cease". He made no commitment to encourage research into other materials or consider whether an ethical vaccine could be obtained abroad.

Although this information was not publicised widely until it became of general interest, due to the Government's mass MMR immunisation campaign in 1994, the Government had been made aware of the problem over a year earlier, should have anticipated pro-life objections and investigated other vaccines, especially since there is no ethical objection to the measles component of the vaccine. Our child received the measles only injection, and some Catholic schools provided only the measles inoculation rather than the MMR.

We understand that, due to the concern expressed at the time of the measles campaign, Sir Kenneth Calman the Chief Medical Officer, agreed to ask the pharmaceutical companies to investigate alternative cell lines for Rubella vaccine production but received no interest from the companies who consider the current vaccine to be effective and relatively free from side effects. They are presently under little financial pressure to change from using fetal cell lines.


Effecting change

I hope, by publishing which vaccines are made from fetal lines and making people aware that there are alternatives, that companies can be encouraged to use animal cell lines in future vaccine development and even change present vaccine production to animal cell lines if there is enough consumer pressure. As can be seen from the above list the drug manufacturers, who make vaccines from animal cells lines, also make other vaccines from human fetal cell lines. There are no all good and all bad companies. If people request the animal cell lines and tell the companies why they do not wish to use the human fetal cell lines, it is possible that one company could be persuaded that there was mileage to be made out of switching to all animal cell lines. We would be delighted to publicise any company that chose to take such moral line.

I would also like to add that spokesmen for the Roman Catholic Church only said that use of the vaccine could be considered the lesser evil on the basis that there were no alternatives available and in the light of exaggerated government predictions of a huge measles epidemic. I am sure that, now a suitable alternative has become available, they will reconsider their statements on the MMR vaccine.

The information in this article is as up to date as I can make it, but I will try to update it as necessary. The information comes from a variety of sources, and I can not guarantee that it is correct, or has not changed. You should cheek the suitability of vaccines with your own doctor and supplier. I would welcome any assistance in keeping this list up to date. Please E-mail me ( if you have trouble obtaining any of the vaccines. I would be pleased to include any comments or corrections from drug companies.

Last updated 19 December, 1998

Catherine Williams BSc., is the mother of five children



For obtaining rubella, measles, mumps vaccines...
IDIS World Medicines, Millbank House,  171-185 Ewell Road,  Surbiton,   Surrey, KT6 6AX, United Kingdom.
Tel No: 0181 410 0700

For information on the abortions which produced the MRC-5 and WI-38 cell lines ...
Letter from C. Bolwell Product information Associate, International Medical Affairs. The Wellcome Foundation. Also letter from Tom Sackville MP to Anne Winterton MP, January 1993.

For information on currently available licensed vaccines ...
ABPI data sheet compendium published by Datapharm publications, 12 Whitehall Place, London. Hansard Parliamentary questions, House of Commons , Pasteur Merieux MSD Clivemont House, Clivemont Rd, Maidenhead, England. Pasteur Merieux Connaught USA, Web site The Kitasato Institute Research Center for Biologicals, 6-111 Arai, Kitamoto-city, Saitama 364 Japan.

For information on vaccines available around the world...
Minnesota Department of Health web site

For information on cell lines in various vaccines...
South African electronic products inserts.

For information on available rabies vaccines...
Child secure web site
CDC Wonder
Infectious Diseases News Chiron Web site
Morbidity and Mortality weekly report Jan 16 1998

For information on Hepatitis vaccines ...
ABPI data files compendium
South African electronic products index Havarix ISTM org website
MerckSharp and Dohme web site Vaqta hepatitis A vaccine

Rubella immunoglobulin ...
The Merck manual
Anti Viral therapy


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