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Yes, Novavax Used HEK293, An Aborted Fetal Cell Line

Source: Sarah Quale via
Reprinted with permission.

Despite Novavax’s public statements that its COVID-19 vaccine does not have any connection to abortion-derived cell lines, evidence from a private letter and Novavax’s own published study shows that the HEK293 aborted fetal cell line was used in the testing phase.


After filing a request for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. in January, Novavax, Inc., reports its protein-based vaccine does not have any connection to abortion-derived cell lines. In a recent Christianity Today article, which erroneously claimed the vaccine is “the first without links to aborted fetal cell lines,” a Novavax spokesperson was quoted as saying:

“No human fetal-derived cell lines or tissue, including HEK293 cells, are used in the development, manufacture, or production of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373.”

Though this statement is accurate, it is at the same time, deceptive. Novavax used an ethical cell line obtained from moth cells in the production and manufacture of its vaccine. However, the HEK293 cell line was used in the testing phase, as revealed in a scientific paper published by Novavax itself. The HEK293 cell line was originally harvested from the kidney of an aborted baby girl in 1973.

Novavax’s doublespeak

In the scientific paper, a third-party research group contracted by Novavax compared an HEK293-produced protein to Novavax’s insect-produced protein. Researchers found that Novavax’s insect-produced protein had a similar structural integrity to the HEK293-produced protein.

When presented with this evidence, the Novavax spokesperson provided another careful answer—that Novavax “did not use HEK293 cells in the testing of NVX-CoV2373.”

However, in a letter obtained by the Charlotte Lozier Institute from a medical colleague who requested information from Novavax (shown below), Novavax admits that HEK293 cells were indeed used as part of the testing phase for NVX-CoV2373:

“Testing was conducted to compare the structural integrity of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein produced in the Sf9 insect cells versus the spike protein produced in the mammalian human embryonic kidney HEK 293F cells. The comparison determined the Sf9 cell technology produced spike proteins were comparable in structural integrity as the spike proteins produced in the HEK 293F cell.”

In this same letter, Novavax also stated that “fetal-derived cell lines were not used in the manufacture, testing, or production of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine.”

Enough with the double-speak.

Novavax HEK293 abortion vaccine testing

Novavax’s public and private statements are confusing. Even if no live HEK293 cells were used in the test (and the study focused only on a structural comparison of the two proteins, using what is generally known about the HEK293 protein), Novavax still relied on knowledge obtained by harvesting the kidney cells of a pre-born baby girl who was intentionally killed.

If Novavax is interested in providing a COVID-19 vaccine “to a lot of people who have been hesitant to get other vaccines,” as its CEO Stanley Erck has said, then why not just speak plainly to the public? For many people, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy stems from the vaccines’ connection to abortion.

And there is a connection to abortion present in Novavax’s vaccine—one that is completely unnecessary.

Abortion-derived cell lines are unnecessary and potentially risky

The use of aborted human cell lines is not necessary at any point in the vaccine creation process—design, production, or testing. Novavax, like all biotech companies, has available to them ethical cell lines that are free of any connection to abortion.

Dr. David Prentice of the Charlotte Lozier Institute encourages Novavax and other biotech companies “to publicly dissociate themselves from any further use of illicit biological materials.” Dr. Prentice adds:

“This would go a long way to calming concerns, increasing goodwill, and frankly, decreasing use of such materials in labs. We celebrated Sanofi moving away from abortion-derived cells for production of their polio vaccine. We should encourage similar moves now regarding even post-production testing.”

Dr. Alan Moy, CEO of the Iowa biotech company Cellular Engineering Technologies and founder of the John Paul II Medical Research Institute agrees:

“There are alternative human cell lines that are not only free of ethical controversy but also offer scientific advantages to the HEK293 cell line for vaccines or routine drug testing.”

According to Dr. Moy, the HEK293 cell line is problematic far beyond the ethical controversy:

  • The HEK293 cell line is antiquated, created 50 years ago with methods that are vastly outdated.
  • The cell line does not have the normal cellular machinery of native human cells. It has been transformed into a tumor cell line with 50 percent more chromosomes than a normal human cell line.
  • It expresses viral genes and proteins that pose potential safety risks.
  • It does not produce native human proteins anymore and also lacks the native cell surface proteins necessary to conduct COVID testing, unless those important proteins are genetically added.
  • HEK293 cannot be replicated from future aborted fetal tissue, which is why researchers are creating new cell lines from new abortions for use in future vaccines.

But the future of biotech can and should be pro-life.

A pro-life biotech future

Cellular Engineering Technologies and the John Paul II Medical Research Institute have created what Dr. Moy calls “the largest pipeline of ethical human cell lines that do not require the use of aborted fetal cells or embryonic stem cells.” Dr. Moy notes that these cell lines can be used for production and testing of vaccines, biologics, gene therapy, and cell therapy “by combining modern genetic methods with post-natal stem cells”—namely, stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood.

“The cells maintain human cellular properties,” says Dr. Moy. “They’re free of contaminated viral proteins, which offers greater safety and reproducibility. They normally express the necessary cell surface proteins to conduct COVID vaccine testing and represent an endless reproducible supply because millions of newborns are delivered every year.”

Dr. Moy anticipates that these ethical cell lines will be commercially available to the broader scientific community and the pharmaceutical industry this year. Cellular Engineering Technologies currently offers contract research services that can provide routine drug testing and drug development with these ethical cell lines.

The future use of HEK293 and other abortion-derived cell lines is, thankfully, in jeopardy. The Personhood Alliance encourages the biotech and pharmaceutical industries to publicly commit to using ethically derived cell lines in the design, production, and testing of vaccines and other therapeutics.

This, of course, includes Novavax.

For more information about the Personhood Alliance’s official position on vaccine ethics, visit our Vaccine Ethics resource page.

To learn more about the work of the Personhood Alliance and our 100% pro-life, no exceptions stance, subscribe to our email list.

Sarah Quale is president of Personhood Alliance Education, founder of Educe® online learning, and author of the Foundations online pro-life curriculum. She is an award-winning curriculum and instructional designer who has worked for over 20 years in corporate, academic, and ministerial environments.

Header image: Mufid Majnun via