- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2021

No pharmaceutical company is eager to broadcast the role that abortion-derived fetal cell lines played in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that reportedly includes Pfizer.

Project Veritas released a video Wednesday in which Melissa Strickler, Pfizer manufacturing quality auditor, produced what she identified as internal emails that showed top officials discussing how to downplay in corporate communications the role of embryonic cell lines in the COVID-19 vaccine program.

“If they’re being this deceptive about it, I don’t feel comfortable being silent,” said Ms. Strickler in the video interview with Project Veritas President James O’Keefe.

That vaccine-makers such as Pfizer and Moderna employed embryonic cell lines in their COVID-19 research may not be widely known outside medical and pro-life circles, but it’s also not a secret.

The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute reported in December that both Pfizer and Moderna used the abortion-derived cell lines in their lab testing, although not in the development or production of the COVID-19 vaccinations.



What the emails leaked by Ms. Strickler reveal is the corporate strategy to sidestep the hot-button issue, which has stirred religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccination and prompted many to seek a religious exemption to vaccine mandates from employers and the federal government.

In a Feb. 4 email posted by Project Veritas, Vanessa Gelman, Pfizer senior director for worldwide research, development and medical communications, said the pharmaceutical firm should steer clear of the topic.

“We have been trying as much as possible not to mention the fetal cell lines,” said the email.

She followed up in a Feb. 9 email, writing, “We want to avoid having the information on the fetal cells floating out there.”

“[W]e believe that the risk of communicating this right now outweighs any potential benefit we could see, particularly with general members of the public who may take this information and use it in ways we may not want out there,” said Ms. Gelman in an email. “We have not received any questions from policy makers or media on this issue in the last few weeks, so we want to avoid raising this if possible.”

She cited a statement that officials “have tried really hard not to share unless it’s strictly necessary and mission-critical,” which read: “One or more cell lines with an origin that can be traced back to human fetal tissue has been used in laboratory tests associated with the vaccine program.”

Philip Dormitzer, Pfizer chief scientific officer, said in email that “HEK293T cells, used for the IVE assay, are ultimately derived from an aborted fetus.”

He added that “the Vatican doctrinal committee has confirmed that they consider it acceptable for Pro-Life believers to be immunized. Pfizer’s official statement couches the answer well and is what should be provided in response to an outside inquiry.”

The Washington Times has reached out to Pfizer for comment.

Long-running debate

Debate has raged for decades about the ethics of using embryonic lines from elective abortions to develop vaccines. The HEK293 line used by Pfizer originated from kidney cells taken from a fetus aborted in 1973 in the Netherlands.

Dr. James Lawler, University of Nebraska Medical Center associate professor, addressed the issue in an Aug. 18 post, stressing that “the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any aborted fetal cells.”

“However, fetal cell lines — cells grown in a laboratory based on aborted fetal cells collected generations ago — were used in testing during research and development of the mRNA vaccines [Pfizer and Moderna], and during production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” he said.

He said that the use of fetal cell lines in testing the efficacy and safety of medications is a “common practice, because they provide a consistent and well-documented standard.”

The individual cells from 1970s and 1980s abortions “have since multiplied into many new cells over the past four or five decades, creating the fetal cell lines I mentioned above. Current fetal cell lines are thousands of generations removed from the original fetal tissue. They do not contain any tissue from a fetus.”

Dr. Lawler, who said he was a practicing Catholic, added that the “description of ongoing modern fetal tissue harvesting to create vaccines is dishonest sensationalism.”

In a December statement, the Vatican’s doctrinal office said when “ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

Unlike Pfizer and Moderna, some companies used fetal cell lines from abortions in both lab testing and production of the COVID-19 vaccination, including AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute vaccine tracker.

CLI‘s expert scientific analysis finds that many leading vaccine candidates supported by Operation Warp Speed do not use abortion-derived cell lines in their production. This is encouraging news,” said the institute in a December statement.

“Unfortunately, some vaccine developers have unnecessarily put American families in a difficult position by choosing to use controversial human fetal cell lines in production or testing, or by a lack of transparency,” the institute continued. “Many developers already opt to use animal cell lines, non-fetal human cells, yeast, or chicken eggs instead. We urge all developers to avail themselves of these options going forward.”

David Prentice, Lozier vice president and research director, said Thursday that the institute receives dozens of vaccine-related inquiries daily.

“This is a public relations crisis that’s easily avoidable,” said Mr. Prentice, who has a doctorate in biochemistry. “Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies should commit to no longer using the antiquated science of fetal cells and instead use ethically sourced alternatives as are routinely used for many other medications.”

Ms. Strickler, who said she took a leave of absence from the Pfizer plant in McPherson, Kansas, said she went to Project Veritas because “I felt it was the right thing to do.”

“They don’t want to stir up a mess,” she said on the video. “They don’t want to have to deal with people that are upset because I think people can use religious exemptions for it and they don’t want that. I think they want nobody to have an excuse to not get it.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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