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. 

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. ​

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