In recent days a controversy has arisen over whether parents should be required to vaccinate their children. Some politicians with presidential aspirations were criticized for defending the rights of parents to make that decision. As an internal medicine doctor, I believe strongly in the efficacy of vaccines. I also believe strongly that our vaccines (and all of our medical advances) should be safe and derived in a morally principled fashion.
There is an ethical concern about the measles vaccine issue that I do not believe the American public is aware: a component of the current MMR vaccine is derived from an aborted fetal cell line. As such, there is a large group of Americans who will not avail themselves of this “tainted” therapy. The unfortunate truth is that there are ethical, morally acceptable alternative vaccines that are simply not made available to Americans.
Prior to 2009, Merck, the manufacturer of the MMR vaccine used in the U.S. and in many other countries, made available individually separate vaccines for mumps and measles that were derived from the ethically acceptable sources as described. In 2009, they stopped making these vaccines available, despite reassurances to the contrary. Since then, Merck has refused to license these vaccines to other companies who were interested in making them available to the public. It has been since 2009 that the incidence of measles in this country has risen, so it is not inconceivable that legitimate ethical concerns have been at least one factor for the decline in the rate of measles vaccination.
The ethical problem is not isolated to the MMR vaccine. Cell lines from aborted fetuses are used in the vaccines for Hepatitis A, chicken pox, shingles, rabies, some small pox vaccines, some polio vaccines, some combination polio vaccines such as Pentacel and Quadracel, and in some of the new Ebola vaccines. Additionally aborted fetal cells are utilized in some treatments for hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The fact is, that none of these need to come from such sources, but could be made from other cell lines readily available in research circles.
For instance, the Kitasato Institute in Japan makes MMR vaccines that are ethically acceptable. Regrettably, the FDA decided not to allow their importation into the United States. Individuals can travel to Japan to receive these vaccines, but obviously, that is not a sensible solution to improving vaccination rates significantly.
Politicians and some in the media have suggested mandating vaccinations of children against the moral objections of their parents. Those same public figures would serve us better by helping to promote the manufacture or importation of vaccines that are derived ethically. Parents and their children deserve wholesome untainted vaccine alternatives to promote the health and the safety of their children.