The United States has committed $13.6 billion to six drug companies in an effort to produce a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, but in a hearing with federal health officials last week, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford raised concerns about how some are being developed.
"It's specifically the use of tissue that's from aborted children that becomes the challenge, and the Moderna is using embryonic kidney cells from aborted children. Johnson & Johnson is using aborted children embryonic retinal tissue for its production of the vaccines," Lankford said.
The companies Lankford mentioned are not actually using fetal tissue to develop their COVID-19 vaccines. They are using stem cells, not tissues. The cells come from lines derived from single aborted fetuses roughly 35 and 40 years old and widely used in medical research and industry.
Similar stem cells have been used since the 1960s, including in the development of vaccines for several diseases.
Some groups, however, insist their members receive vaccines developed without using human components.
"I think it's very important that as many people get vaccinated as possible, and I don't want to have a reason for people not to go get a vaccine because they're concerned about the origin of the vaccine," Lankford told Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield.
There are six vaccines in development under Operation Warp Speed.
"My recollection is we're going to have a number of candidates that's not going to compromise one's ethics related to the use of human tissue," Redfield said.
The Trump administration has banned federal researchers from using fetal tissue from elective abortions and added reviews to scientists who do use it if they seek federal funding. The policy does not apply to the stem cell lines being used in COVID vaccine development.