A graphic shared on Facebook claims that a Catholic priest died “After Receiving Moderna's COVID Vaccine That Utilizes Aborted Fetal Tissue”.
The graphic includes a photo of a man dressed in a clerical collar, seated in front of what looks like a religious painting.
An online search for the caption to the photo – “Catholic Priest Dies After Receiving Moderna's COVID Vaccine That Utilizes Aborted Fetal Tissue” – leads to an article with the same headline on the website consumerating.org.
The 14 January 2021 article gives more details, and in turn refers to other articles about the death of John Fields, a Catholic priest in the US city of Philadelphia.
But did Fields die because of receiving the Moderna vaccine and does the vaccine contain aborted foetal tissue?
Biased, suspicious website spread claim
The website “The Consumer Rating and Research Centre”, which published the article with the same headline, lists an address in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But it’s unclear whether the centre has any official status.
The “About Us” page on the website is confusing, with contradictory information and unconventional spelling and grammar. These are signs that the website may be untrustworthy.
This is an indication that the website consumerating.org promotes anti-vaccine propaganda.
The website’s bias is also evident in the article criticising the Catholic priest, Fields, for taking part in the Moderna vaccine trial. It also makes false claims about vaccines in general, including that “vaccines are the primary cause of auto-immune diseases in humans and domesticated animals”.
This is not true.
Priest’s participation in vaccine trial and death
The article quotes something called “The Dialog”. While it doesn’t link directly to this source, a Google search reveals it is a news site based in Wilmington, Delaware, in the US, covering local Catholic news.
Fields was an “archpriest of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia” and communication director for the archeparchy, or diocese. Philadelphia, while in a different state, is about 50 kilometres from Wilmington.
Before being approved for use by drug regulatory agents such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), vaccines go through three clinical trial stages.
Occasionally, in an emergency like the current Covid-19 pandemic, medicines or vaccines are approved for use through an emergency use authorisation, or EUA, despite them not yet having gone through a full three-stage clinical trial or been approved.
While the safety analysis conducted by Moderna and the FDA found some adverse reactions to the vaccine, such as pain or swelling at the injection site, and headaches, no deaths directly related to the vaccine were reported. These side effects were signs of the immune system adapting to the vaccine.
It is important to remember that there is also no indication whether the 70-year-old priest received two live doses of the vaccine, or placebos.
He died on 29 November. There is no evidence his death was in any way linked to him having received the Moderna vaccine – and only a 50% chance he even received the vaccine at all, as is the case for any participant in a double-blind study.
Abortion and the vaccine
Foetal cell lines are used in some vaccine production stages. But they are different from foetal tissue. Foetal cell lines are grown in a laboratory, but originated in cells from aborted tissue in the 1970s and 1980s.
The original cells have multiplied into many new cells over the past forty-plus years. Moderna used a foetal cell line in the confirmation stage to make sure the vaccine worked. But there were no foetal cell lines used in the development and production phases of the vaccine. There is no foetal tissue in the actual vaccine injection.
In December 2020, the headquarters of the Catholic church, the Vatican, released a statement saying it was morally acceptable for Catholics to receive the Covid-19 vaccines.
The Vatican said that the need to prevent the spread of the disease outweighed the ethical problem posed by vaccines since “their connection with abortion is remote”.
For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false
A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?
Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.Publishers guide
Africa Check teams up with Facebook
Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.
The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.
You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.