by Greg Lawson, MVLCE
posted Dec 29, 2020
I recently read a post on Facebook that said “You can’t be vegan and pro-vaccine.” I immediately felt that the person who posted that message misunderstood the meaning of veganism. For me being vegan isn’t about being perfect; it’s about living so as to prevent the suffering of animals to the best of my ability. Then, an even more disturbing post appeared on my Facebook timeline from a friend who is prominent in the vegan movement. He posted that taking the vaccine meant you weren’t vegan. His post was replied to by many people who advanced conspiracy theories about vaccines that were only marginally related to reality.
Neither the COVID vaccine produced by Pfizer nor the one produced by Moderna contains human fetal tissue, nor was fetal tissue used in the development of those vaccines. Cell lines derived from elective abortions performed decades ago have been used in the manufacture of vaccines, including current vaccines against rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A, and shingles. At least five of the 130 candidate COVID-19 vaccines in development use one of two human fetal cell lines: HEK-293, a kidney cell line widely used in research that comes from a fetus aborted in 1972; and PER.C6, a cell line owned by Johnson & Johnson, developed from cells from an 18-week-old fetus aborted in 1985. Pfizer and Moderna did not use fetal cell lines.
Conspiracy theories that appear on social media allege that aborted fetal material is one of the ingredients in COVID vaccines which is a misrepresentation.
Testing of COVID vaccines was performed on animals, including mice, monkeys, ferrets and pigs. Therefore, in the strict sense, the COVID vaccines are not vegan products. But does that mean that vegans should not take them?
The definition of veganism put forth by the Vegan Society is “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or
any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
The phrase “as far as is possible and practicable” is important. Living in society means it’s not always possible or practicable to avoid animal products. Unless you live in a mud house, then chances are your wall is made of drywall or sheetrock. Drywall, sheetrock and paint contain animal by-products. Many municipal water supplies use animal bone charcoal filters, just like the dreaded white sugar. Cars were once tested on animals before crash test dummies. Tires and the asphalt of roads contain animal products…and on and on.
There is a moral imperative for us to do our best to end the coronavirus pandemic and if that means taking a vaccine that was tested on animals then, in my opinion, that’s what we should do.
Anyone who says “You’re not a real vegan unless you do this and that and avoid this and that” is an annoying member of the ‘Vegan Police” who doesn’t understand the phrase “possible and practicable.” This hardline stance does not advance our movement.
We shouldn’t be making veganism look difficult to those who aren’t with us yet. Vegans should exhibit compassion and empathy, and be helpful not judgmental towards other vegans. At least that’s my judgment.
Greg Lawson is a retired National Park Service ranger and a Main Street Vegan Academy Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator. He was lead journalist for the newsletter Animal Rights Online for eight years and is vice president of the Veg Society of El Paso. Greg is co-host of a vegan radio show, Animal Concerns of Texas, in its eighteenth year on KTEP-FM, National Public Radio for the Southwest.