Dr. Jay Carpenter, M.D.
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.
Measles is a viral disease that can lead to infection of the brain (encephalitis) in 1 in 1,000 cases, resulting in serious neurologic complications and sometimes death. In addition, it can lead to other problems such as pneumonia. Vaccines for measles are now commonly combined in the MMR vaccine with vaccines for rubella and mumps. These diseases can also result in deadly complications. Vaccination can nearly eliminate the risks from these viral infections.
In order for vaccines to be made for viruses, the virus must first be isolated, then grown in a cell line to provide sufficient numbers of the virus. That viral material is again isolated and put into a vaccine to be injected into the recipient. In isolating the virus after it is grown in a cell line, particles from the cells, including particles of the host DNA in which it was grown, are collected and become part of the material that is injected into the recipient. When the cell line used is of human origin, legitimate concerns about the consequences of injecting another’s DNA into the recipient have been raised and not yet answered.