There are no foetal cells in the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

26 November 2020
What was claimed

Aborted male foetal cells called MRC-5 are in the Covid-19 vaccine.

Our verdict

The cell strain referenced isn’t used to manufacture the vaccine. A different cell strain, derived from kidney cells taken from a female foetus aborted in the 1970s was used to propagate the virus for the vaccine. These cells don’t make it to the final product.

“Share [this video] to...anybody that doesn’t want aborted foetal tissue fragments put into them or their DNA changed”

Polly Tommey, 15 November 2020.

A video originally posted on the Vaxxed II Facebook page, which has since spread further online, claims that the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine contains cells from the lung of an aborted male foetus.

The vaccine does not use the cell strain mentioned, but a different one, called HEK 293, which was derived from human kidney cells of an aborted foetus. 

Cells from both foetuses have been replicated over the decades, creating what’s known as cell strains. So the actual cells used in the manufacture of this vaccine are not directly from a foetus. 

While human-derived cells are used to manufacture the vaccine, they are filtered out of the final product.

What does the video claim?

The video claims that the ChAdOx1 Covid-19 vaccine, being developed by the University of Oxford and eventually manufactured by AstraZeneca, contains cells that come from an aborted foetus.

The video points to a paper that also talks about the ChAdOx1 vaccine and the use of MRC-5 cells, a line of cells that were originally taken from an aborted foetus in 1966

MRC-5 are a group of cells that can be grown in a lab, or outside of the tissue it came from, and are used for research. These cells originated from those taken from a foetus, but none of the cells being used today were in an aborted foetus.

These cells have since been propagated in labs for many years, and has been used in the actual production of other vaccines, such as vaccines against shingles and chickenpox, to grow the virus for use in the injection. 

But AstraZeneca told Full Fact that these MRC-5 cells were not used in the development of its Covid-19 vaccine. 

So, back to the paper mentioned in the video. This paper is a pre-clinical research study done by some of the same people working on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to see how the vaccine might work in human cells, before it was tested on people. The study did use MRC-5 cells. 

We asked AstraZeneca about this paper, which said: “The paper referred to is preclinical research conducted to show the effectiveness of the vaccine in preclinical studies before moving to human trials. The MRC-5 cell line is not used to produce [the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine].”

But cells from the HEK 293 TREX producer cell line were used in the manufacture of the vaccine, specifically to propagate the virus. These cells are derived from kidney cells from a female foetus aborted in the 1970s. 

Why are foetal cells used in production of some vaccines?

According to the Vaccine Knowledge Project at Oxford University: “Some viruses, such as chickenpox (varicella), grow much better in human cells. After they are grown, the viruses are purified several times to remove the cell culture material. This makes it unlikely that any human material remains in the final vaccine.”

They also say that the foetus from which MRC-5 cells are propogated, was the result of a legal abortion agreed to by the woman, and was not performed for the purpose of vaccine development specifically. 

The origin of HEK 293 cells are less clear, but came from what was likely to have been a therapeutic abortion in the Netherlands in the 1970s.

The video also claims that the vaccine will change your DNA which is untrue. We’ve written more about this here.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine does not use the cell strain mentioned in the video, but does use a different one derived from aborted foetal cells. It also does not change your DNA.

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