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Australian Religious Leaders Criticize ‘Immoral’ COVID-19 Vaccine Deal

AstraZeneca's headquarters are pictured in Sydney
AstraZeneca's headquarters are pictured in Sydney

A coronavirus deal signed by Australia with an international drug company is raising ethical concerns among prominent church leaders.

Australia has signed a deal with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to produce and distribute a vaccine being developed by Britain's Oxford University... if the treatment works.

But three of Australia's most senior archbishops have written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging him to reconsider the agreement, saying the use of "fetal tissue” in the research is “deeply immoral.”

“To use that tissue then for science is reprehensible,” said Glenn Davies, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney. “Once I know something that is morally compromised, it is my job to speak out about it.”

The Oxford University study uses embryonic kidney cells harvested from a female fetus in the Netherlands in 1973.

Dr. Nick Coatsworth, Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, says the work adheres to strict guidelines.

“There are strong ethical regulations surrounding the use of any human cell, and this is a very professional, highly-powered research unit,” he said.

Other vaccines in Australia use genetic material that originally came from a human fetus. They include inoculations against rubella, hepatitis A and rabies.

Senior religious leaders have not explicitly called for a boycott of the potential Oxford University COVID-19 drug. But they have said that members of their congregations might consider their “individual conscience.”

Experts have stressed that any successful vaccine for coronavirus developed using fetal cells would have no remnants of that genetic material in the final product.