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Choices Limited For Cleveland Catholics Who Object To J&J Vaccine

St. Colman Church is a Catholic Church on Cleveland's West Side. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]
St. Colman Church is a Catholic Church on Cleveland's west side. [Lisa Ryan / ideastream]

This week, Catholic leaders expressed moral concerns about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because it was produced in part using fetal cell lines from an abortion. They say Catholics should first opt for Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which also used a fetal cell line in research, but not in production.

But in Northeast Ohio, and in most of the rest of the world, there isn’t much of an option, said Father Joseph Koopman of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.

“If we had a choice, encourage the faithful as I have been, to consider taking the Pfizer, Moderna over the Johnson & Johnson. But it looks as if that choice might not exist,” he said.

Dr. Robyn Strosaker, chief operating officer of University Hospitals, said UH will try to work with patients’ preferences, but they can’t control what kind of vaccines they get from the state.

“We do let all of our patients know what kind of vaccine they’re going to get at the time of scheduling,” she said. “If the patient did not want the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, if we had another option, we would certainly be happy to accommodate that if we could.”

The hospital system has not seen people requesting one vaccine over another yet, she said, but has not yet offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those will be included for the first time this weekend.

UH is currently vaccinating people in the 1B group, which includes some those with severe medical conditions. People in the 1C group, which includes pregnant women, are now being preregistered.

Ohio hospitals learn each week which vaccines they will get from the state, said Maureen Nagg, a spokesperson for St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, a faith-based hospital started by the Catholic Church in 1865.

Nagg said St. Vincent follows the direction and guidance of the Catholic Church and will continue to administer all three brands of the vaccine, depending on what the state provides each week.

If anyone objects to the kind of vaccine available, they will be rescheduled to a time when they can receive a different brand, she said.

Koopman said that while he objects to the use of a line of cells from an abortion in any research, development or production of a vaccine, he will balance other Catholic principles – like charity – when making his decision.

“I’m still in a position where I’m around a lot more vulnerable people, and so that definitely weighs on me,” he said.

He says he’s not sure if this will cause Northeast Ohio Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but he emphasized that it’s their personal decision.

Infections disease specialist Dr. James Lawler of Nebraska Medicine, a hospital system based in Omaha, said none of the COVID-19 vaccines contain any aborted fetal cells.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was produced using cells that are descended from tissue taken from a 1985 elective abortion. Pfizer and Moderna also used fetal cell lines in their research, but not in production.   

Lawler wrote on the Nebraska Medical web site: “Current fetal cell lines are thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue.”

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158