Facts are under assault in 2020.

We can't fight back misinformation about the election and COVID-19 without you. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact

More Info

I would like to contribute

A general view of AstraZeneca offices and the corporate logo in Cambridge, England. (AP) A general view of AstraZeneca offices and the corporate logo in Cambridge, England. (AP)

A general view of AstraZeneca offices and the corporate logo in Cambridge, England. (AP)

Noah Y. Kim
By Noah Y. Kim November 18, 2020

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain aborted fetal tissue

If Your Time is short

• The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is created from a virus grown in a cell line derived from aborted fetal tissue. However, the cell line is purified away from the vaccine before the vaccine is used.

•  The video incorrectly identifies the cell line used to grow the vaccine.

An effective COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be key in bringing the pandemic to heel. However, that hasn’t stopped some social media users from spreading false claims about various vaccine candidates. 

One of these claims originated in a Facebook video posted by the anti-vaccination group We Are Vaxxed. The video, broadcast live on Nov. 15, claims that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca contains cells from an aborted male fetus.

"CONFIRMED- aborted Male fetus in Covid 19 vaccine," reads the title that appears above the video on Facebook. 

The video shows the packaging for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine while an offscreen narrator breaks down what led her to conclude that the vaccine contains aborted fetal tissue.

The narrator then shows a screen grab from a scientific study of the vaccine.  The narrator reads aloud one portion of the text where the authors describe analyzing the vaccine in "MRC-5 and A549 cell lines." 

The video then shows the Wikipedia page for MRC-5 cell lines. The narrator points out that the cell line was originally developed from research "deriving lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male fetus."

"There you have it peeps," she says. "One thing (this vaccine) definitely has is the lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male fetus."

The post, which has been viewed over 150,000 times, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

That’s because it’s wrong. 

As the video points out, MRC-5 was created when a cell isolated from an aborted fetus was multiplied to produce a "cell line" of the same genetic makeup. The MRC-5 cells were obtained in 1966 from a 14-week-old fetus electively aborted in the United Kingdom.

According to Jenny Hursit, an AstraZeneca spokesperson, the company didn’t use the MRC-5 cell line to develop the vaccine. 

Featured Fact-check

David Matthews, a scientist at the University of Bristol and a co-author of the study cited in the video, told us that the narrator misleadingly summarized his paper. 

"This paper looked at how the Oxford vaccine behaves when it is inside a genetically normal human cell. The vaccine is NOT itself made in MRC-5 cells," he wrote in an email. 

Matthews explained that he and his colleagues were attempting to analyze the effectiveness of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine before it was tested on humans. To achieve this goal, researchers at Oxford and the University of Bristol injected the vaccine into the MRC-5 cell line to see how it reacted in human cells.

Contrary to the video’s claims, the study never says that MRC-5 is an ingredient in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

However, Matthews noted that the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine did involve the HEK 293 cell line, which was grown from a kidney derived from an aborted fetus.  The cell line has been widely used in biological and medical inquiry.

According to Paul Offit, the director of the vaccine education center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the HEK 293 is originally derived from kidney cells that were grown in a tissue culture. The first source of the cells was a fetus legally aborted in the Netherlands in the 1970s. 

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine takes the form of a modified virus that trains your immune system how to identify cells infected with the coronavirus, Matthews explained. The modified virus is grown in the HEK 293 cell line. These cells are then purified away to "exceptionally high standards" to create the vaccine. 

After the purification process, the final vaccine contains trillionths of a gram of fragmented DNA from the cell line. This is about the amount of DNA in edible fruits and vegetables. 

Our ruling

A Facebook video claims that there is "aborted Male fetus" in the Oxford-Astrazeneca "Covid 19 vaccine."

The video incorrectly identifies the cell line used to grow the virus for the vaccine. The post also gives the impression that fetal tissue is included in the vaccine.

The vaccine is created from a virus grown in a cell line derived from aborted fetal tissue. However, the cell line is purified away from the vaccine before it is used. It is inaccurate to claim that the vaccine "contains" aborted fetal tissue. 

The claim is not accurate. We rate it False. ​

Our Sources

ABC News, What aborted fetuses have to do with vaccines, Feb. 17, 2015

A Facebook video, Nov. 15, 2020

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Vaccine Ingredients — DNA

Email interview with Paul Offit, director of the vaccine education center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Nov. 16, 2020

Email interview with David Matthews, a scientist at the University of Bristol, Nov. 17, 2020

Email interview with Jenny Hursit, AstraZeneca Global Media Relations Manager, Nov. 17, 2020

Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, Is it true that there are vaccines produced using aborted fetuses?

PolitiFact, COVID-19 vaccine update: What to know about Pfizer and Moderna’s announcements, Nov. 16, 2020

PolitiFact, No, Democrats aren’t pushing microchips to fight coronavirus, Apr. 23, 2020

PolitiFact, No, food companies are not selling products that contain ‘aborted fetus cells,’ Oct. 23, 2019

PolitiFact, No, seven children in Senegal didn’t die after COVID-19 vaccines, Apr. 13, 2020

ResearchSquare, SARS-CoV-2 candidate vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 infection of human cell lines reveals a normal low range of viral backbone gene expression alongside very high levels of SARS-CoV-2 S glycoprotein expression, Oct. 20, 2020

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Noah Y. Kim

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain aborted fetal tissue

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up