Scott Morrison has revealed why his family would take a coronavirus vaccine made using cell lines from an electively-aborted foetus.
The prime minister, who is a practicing Christian, has publicly responded for the first time to prominent religious leaders who have threatened to boycott the coronavirus vaccine.
Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox church leaders have expressed concerns about the vaccine being developed at Oxford University.
Australia has signed a letter of intent with vaccine developer AstraZeneca and Oxford University to manufacture and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, should their trials prove successful.
The three senior Sydney clerics sought assurances the Oxford candidate would not be mandatory and nobody would be forced to prescribe or dispense that version of a vaccine.
They also urged the prime minister to ensure an ‘ethically uncontroversial alternative’ would be made available.
Mr Morrison said he was respectful of and sensitive to their views but would get the vaccine and recommend it to others once it cleared all clinical trials.
He has previously stated his family would also take the vaccine once available.
The prime minister pointed out the cells being used were cloned from others which were sourced as far as the 1970s.
‘So it’s not current cells that have been taken from abortions or anything like that, this is stuff going back 40 years,’ he told 2SM radio on Friday.
‘And there are many vaccines at the moment that are out there currently in widespread use which draw on that’.
Mr Morrison said his job was to weigh religious objections against the public interest.
‘In this case, given the concerns relate to things that happened 40 years ago, it’s not a current practice, personally I am comfortable with that,’ he said.
‘But I mean, these are personal judgments that people make and you’ve got to always be respectful of other people’s views.’
Cells derived from elective abortions have been used since the 1960s to manufacture vaccines against rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and shingles.
They have also been used to fight diseases including haemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis.
The Oxford vaccine uses HEK (human embryonic kidney) 293 cell lines, obtained from a female foetus in the Netherlands in 1973.
The cells have been modified so they can replicate infinitely, so there is no demand for new cells by scientists.
Deputy Chief Medial Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth addressed the issue on Tuesday saying there would be stringent ethical practices used by Oxford University.
‘The human cell is really important part of their development, and clearly in the process for the Oxford vaccine, which is one of the leading candidates for COVID-19 vaccines, that was an important part of that process,’ Dr Coatsworth said.
‘There are strong ethical regulations surrounding the use of any human cell, particularly foetal human cells, and this is a very professional, highly powered research unit at Oxford University, one of the world’s leading universities’.