Social media users have been sharing posts online that claim the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson contains aborted fetal DNA as an ingredient. This claim is false. While the vaccine used lab-replicated fetal cells (known as fetal cell lines) during its production process, the vaccine itself does not contain any fetal cells.
An example post making this claim can be seen here . The text reads: “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but the first ingredient in J+J va((ine [sic] is aborted fetal DNA. This has been today’s racy post. For those of you who stick around, tune in tomorrow for more.”
The U.S. government authorized Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Janssen COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 27, 2021, enabling millions more Americans to be vaccinated in the coming weeks and setting the vaccine up for additional approvals around the world (here).
The ingredients of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine can be seen in a fact sheet by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) here . These are: recombinant, replication-incompetent adenovirus type 26 expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, citric acid monohydrate, trisodium citrate dihydrate, ethanol, 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD), polysorbate-80, sodium chloride.
The list does not include fetal cells or DNA (nor does it contain messenger RNA, like Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines). Jake Sargent, a representative for Johnson & Johnson, confirmed to Reuters via email that the vaccine does not contain “aborted fetal DNA”.
The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines used fetal cell lines in their testing stages. Johnson & Johnson used a human fetal cell line called PER.C6, developed from the retinal cells of an 18-week-old fetus aborted in 1985 in its production and manufacturing stages.
These fetal cell lines are not taken from recent abortions, but are derived from decades old fetal cells (more detail on this here ). These cells replicate over decades in laboratory settings, thousands of times removed from the original fetus cells, becoming known as fetal cell lines.
For more detail on how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used PER.C6 cells to create its adenovirus vaccine, see ( here).
Dr Amesh Adalja, infectious disease doctor and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, confirmed to Reuters via email that the vaccine does not contain traces of fetal cell lines. “Though fetal cells are used in the production of the vaccine, they do not remain after the production process,” Adalja explained. “The contents of the vaccine or filtered in a way that removes extraneous material prior to packaging.”
Science Magazine reported here that cells derived from abortions have been used since the 1960s to develop vaccines such as chickenpox, hepatitis A, shingles and rubella, as well as drugs for diseases like cystic fibrosis, hemophilia and rheumatoid arthritis.
The use of aborted fetal cells has been a source of controversy among religious leaders and anti-abortion groups (here).
The Trump administration worked to restrict the use of human fetal cells, although President Donald J. Trump’s antibody treatment after he was infected with COVID-19 was developed this same way, as explained by ABC News here .
On Dec. 21, 2020, the Vatican weighed in, saying that in absence of vaccines made from other sources, it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that were developed using cell lines from aborted fetuses (here).
Partly false. The COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson does not contain aborted fetus cells. It was produced by using cells derived from an aborted fetus in 1985.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.