No, Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine Doesn’t ‘Contain’ Aborted Male Foetus

The video incorrectly identifies the cell line used to grow the virus for the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Updated
Fit-WebQoof
4 min read
It is inaccurate to claim that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine “contains” aborted foetal tissue. 
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The video of a woman talking about the Oxford AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and stating that the vaccine contains lung tissue from an aborted male foetus has gone viral on social media.

However, we found that the video incorrectly identifies the cell line used in the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. We also found that the claim that the vaccine “contains” aborted foetal tissue is false.

CLAIM

The video was broadcast live on 15 November on a Facebook page that advocates against vaccination. The first frame of the video shows the photo of the packaging for the AstraZeneca-developed COVID-19 vaccine ChAdOx1-S. The narrator in the video then open up a page of research done on the vaccine and reads out a part of the paper that says, “We used direct RNA sequencing to analyse transcript expression from the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 genome in human MRC-5 and A549 cell lines that are non-permissive for vector replication alongside the replication permissive cell line, HEK293”.

The narrator then picks up on the mention on Medical Research Council cell line (MRC-5) in the research paper and goes on to show the Wikipedia page on the topic. The Wikipedia page describes MRC-5 cell line as “originally developed from research deriving lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male foetus”.

She infers to her viewers that the vaccine definitely has “the lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male foetus.”

The now-deleted Facebook video was shared by over 1,10,000 people.

An archive of the post can be found <a href="https://archive.is/Qvh7w">here</a>.
An archive of the post can be found here.
(Photo: Screenshot/Facebook)
An archive of the post can be found <a href="https://archive.is/aIK0Y">here</a>.
An archive of the post can be found here.
(Photo: Screenshot/Facebook)

The narrator repeatedly asks the viewers to share the video in their own groups and reminds them that the video could be taken down. Consequently, the video was shared by many on Twitter and other anti-vaccination websites.

An archive of the post can be found <a href="https://archive.is/NAb1T">here</a>.
An archive of the post can be found here.
(Photo: Screenshot/Twitter)
An archive of the post can be found <a href="https://archive.is/0oRez">here</a>.
An archive of the post can be found here.
(Photo: Screenshot/Twitter)

WHAT WE FOUND OUT

A spokesperson for the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine team told The Quint that the vaccine is “manufactured using a producer cell line, Human Embryonic Kidney 293 TREX cells”, not MRC-5 cell line as claimed in the video.

HEK-293 is the name given to a specific line of cells used in various scientific applications. The original cells were taken from the kidney of an aborted foetus in 1973. HEK 293 cells used nowadays are clones of those original cells, but are not themselves the cells of aborted babies,” the statement added.

Dr David Matthews, the co-author on the vaccine study mentioned in the video told the fact-checking website Politifact that “the narrator misleadingly summarised his paper.”

This paper looked at how the Oxford vaccine behaves when it is inside a genetically normal human cell. The vaccine is NOT itself made in MRC-5 cells.
Mathews told Politifact

Some viruses are known to grow much better in human cells. In the case of the coronavirus, the modified virus is grown in the HEK 293 cell line and then purified away to remove the cell culture material before the final product is ready. This process ensures that no human material remains in the final vaccine.

The research on standardised foetal lines began in the 1960s with monkey kidney cells. The process saw a gradual shift to human cells because they were more sterile. Since then, cell lines have been essential in developing several vaccines like hepatitis, measles and chickenpox.

Evidently, the claim in the Facebook video that there is “aborted Male foetus” in the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is false. The video has also incorrectly identified the cell line used to grow the virus for the vaccine as MRC-5.

(Not convinced of a post or information you came across online and want it verified? Send us the details on WhatsApp at 9643651818, or e-mail it to us at webqoof@thequint.com and we'll fact-check it for you. You can also read all our fact-checked stories here.)

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