Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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Veganism, the get-out-of-jab-free card

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BIG employers have demanded mandatory vaccination and for care-home staff it is to be compulsory from November. However, there could be a way out – become a vegan. 

Although vaccine producers say the jabs do not contain animal products, ‘ethical vegans’ may still be able refuse them on the basis that they have been tested on animals, a requirement for all medications. And since veganism has elsewhere been ruled a protected characteristic, vegans, as well as others with certain disabilities or medical conditions, could claim constructive dismissal if forced by their employers to get the jab. Jeannette Rowley, a rights advocate at the Vegan Society, says she has received around 100 messages from concerned vegans who say they are very affected, psychologically, by having to confront this dilemma. 

Anti-lockdown campaigner Laurence Fox was quick off the mark to spot the vegan loophole. ‘From this day forward, I self-identify as a trans vegan. I will only eat plant-based food, and medium rare sirloin steaks. And,’ he added, ‘chicken, pork scratchings, and salami.’  

However the poor old vegans find themselves in an acute dilemma, with the Vegan Society encouraging supporters to get the Covid jab. In pragmatic mode, the organisation has stated that the definition of veganism recognises it is not always possible or practicable to avoid participating in animal use, especially in medical situations. The society’s organisers have submitted to the mantra that vaccination is fundamental to dealing with the pandemic and saving lives, so that vegans will have to accept that doing your vaccine duty will involve animal use. In line with the Groucho Marx philosophy, ‘I have principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.’

Not all minority groups are so indulged. Those with an ethical objection to abortion, including many Christian groups, have no such protection, although some Covid vaccines were developed using cell lines derived from aborted foetuses. The dilemma for Christians has been highlighted by a reader of the Daily Sceptic, who was shocked to discover that the organisation she supports, United Beach Missions, was requiring young people who participate in its summer activities to be vaccinated. 

Was it ‘unaware that all the current Covid vaccines are only possible because of abortion benefit, and that a number of Christians feel a moral obligation to avoid the vaccine?’ she asked. The organisation replied, echoing the Vegan Society, that it had taken this decision ‘with the best of intentions and prayerfully before the Lord . . . with the overarching aim of keeping people safe . . . We are seeking to protect and care for people by limiting transmission . . . There are (those) who in good conscience believe that to take a vaccine is a better pro-life decision.’

This highlights a long-standing dilemma for religious conservatives, that medical research has come to rely on the use of material derived from human foetal tissue. 

It is not a simple scenario, since these products fall into the separate categories of tissue obtained via elective termination of pregnancy, and cell lines descended from them. Some of the most commonly used medical research cell lines originated this way. The cell lines from tissue obtained in the 1970s, known as the HEK293T cell line, have continued to grow and divide in a culture, and have been used in scientific discovery for decades. Regeneron, a company using these cell lines, says it does not consider their treatments to have relied on foetal tissue since the cells were acquired so long ago.  

Social conservatives continue to view such developments as unethical, and dispute the use of taxpayer money to fund it. In the US, the Conference of Catholic Bishops has advocated for at least one Covid vaccine to be developed free from any connection with aborted foetal cells, stating that ‘no American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience’. But supporters of the vaccines argue the issue is not clear cut. ‘There are gradations of cooperation,’ states the director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics. ‘Some of them are so remote to what you see as the original evil act, that you can be morally justified in accepting some necessary lifesaving good that comes from it. Not just for you, but by being immunized, you’re also not going to spread the virus to other people.’ Hopefully, he remains a sound sleeper. 

Those who support foetal product banning say that responsibility rests with the federal funding of cell line-dependent vaccine development. There are at least five Covid vaccines which use the HEK293 cell line, and one other, the PER.C6, of which two seek US funding. The University of Oxford/Astra Zeneca and Janssen R & D USA are in line to receive support from the US government under the White House’s Operation Warp Speed, set up to accelerate the development of at least one Covid vaccine by January 2021, of $1.2billion and $456million respectively. 

Arthur Caplan from the NYU School of Medicine argues that these are ‘long-over abortions. These cells are decades old, and even major religious leaders like the Pope have acknowledged that [it’s for] the greater good.’ The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life has agreed. 

These justifications presuppose that legal guidelines are always followed to the letter. At least one, admittedly controversial, investigative journalist has tried to expose criminal activity of many facets of the abortion industry and how tax dollars are funding research using harvested foetal organs. David Daleiden’s work has caused Congress to investigate the abortion industry and led many states to defund Planned Parenthood. For his pains he is subject to a multi-billion-dollar series of lawsuits and prosecutions driven by the pharmaceutical research industry to discredit, punish and ultimately silence him.

Spiritual leaders telling people of conscience to accept compromises reeks of hypocrisy, and legally is blatantly unfair towards those minorities without the somewhat arbitrary blessing of government exemption. Never mind that the public good justifications assume that the vaccines both prevent transmission to others (‘your duty’) and actually save lives in the long run.

Soon it seems that to partake in church life wholly you will be required to be vaccinated. Those who will not or cannot (on conscience or common sense grounds) take the vaccine are fast becoming the unclean. There’s a turn-up for the ethical rule book. Self-identifying as a trans vegan may soon be the only option left.

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Janice Davis
Janice Davis is a grandmother and former girls’ grammar school teacher

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