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Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks, from whom the “immortal” HeLa cell line was derived in 1951, without permission or compensation

Ethical concerns abound in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. How do we ethically test it in people? Can people be forced to get the vaccine if they don’t want it? Who should get it first?

Tackling those questions demands that a vaccine exist. But a slew of other ethical questions arise long before anything is loaded into a syringe. In particular, some Catholic leaders in the United States and Canada are concerned about COVID-19 vaccine candidates made using cells derived from human fetuses aborted electively in the 1970s and 1980s. The group wrote a letter to the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April, expressing concern that several vaccines involving these cell lines were selected for Operation Warp Speed — a multibillion-dollar U.S. government partnership aimed at delivering a COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021.