December 17, 2020
It is profoundly regrettable that within the pro-life movement, there is a small but influential minority of anti-vaxxer extremists who are attacking the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines at the same time that the great majority of pro-life leaders are admonishing the public to take advantage of these life-saving medications for the benefit of themselves and others.
Prominent among the pro-life, anti-vaxxers are the editors of LifeSiteNews, a Toronto-based on-line agency that claims a readership of more than 40 million. In “World Health Organization says oral vaccine caused new polio outbreak in Africa” (September 10), LifeSiteNews reported: “An outbreak of polio in the African country of Sudan has been linked by the World Health Organization (WHO) to an oral polio vaccine. In fact, the wild poliovirus was officially declared to be eradicated in Africa just last month, meaning that all remaining cases of polio on the continent are caused by vaccines.”
These statements are true, but profoundly misleading. Unlike reports in the Washington Post and other mainstream media, LifeSiteNews did not mention the extreme rarity of vaccine-derived polio. Perhaps the LifeSiteNews reporter failed to notice that in an appendix to the press release on vaccine-derived polio in Africa, the WHO explained: “Over the past ten years – a period during which more than 10 billion doses of oral polio vaccine were given worldwide – vaccine-derived polio outbreaks resulted in fewer than 800 cases. In the same period, in the absence of oral polio vaccination, more than 6.5 million children would have been paralysed by wild poliovirus.”
LifeSiteNews avows in its statement of principles: “Accuracy in content is given high priority. Valid corrections are always welcome. Writing and research is of a professional calibre.” However, despite having been informed that their report on vaccine-derived polio in Africa is profoundly misleading, LifeSiteNews editors have yet to publish any correction.
In Physicians: “Masks don’t control viruses, they control you,” “pandemic is over,” (October 19), LifeSiteNews reported that Dr. Simone Gold, controversial head of “America’s Frontline Doctors,” told a rally in Washington, D.C.: “The facts are not in dispute: Masks are completely irrelevant to blocking the SARS-CoV-2 virus.” Furthermore, LifeSiteNews related: “Gold cited the New England Journal of Medicine [NEJM] which acknowledged that ‘masks serve symbolic roles’ and are thus mere ‘lucky charms that may help increase’ a person’s ‘perceived sense of safety.’”
Indeed, the NEJM published an article on April 1 in which Harvard epidemiologist Michael Klompas and three co-authors did make the statements quoted by Gold, but in the context of observing: “The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is minimal.” Moreover, in an editor’s note appended to the online version of this NEJM article, readers are advised that in a letter to the editor of the NEJM published on July 9, Klompas and his co-authors emphasized: “We strongly support the calls of public health agencies for all people to wear masks when circumstances compel them to be within 6 ft of others for sustained periods.”
Correspondingly, in an article published in the NEJM on October 29, two epidemiologists from the University of California, San Francisco, cited “increasing evidence” that “population-wide facial masking” might curtail COVID-19 by reducing “both transmission rates and severity of disease”.
Clearly, LifeSiteNews erred in claiming that the NEJM has acknowledged that face masks are mere lucky charms. But when this error was drawn to the attention of LifeSiteNews editors, did they publish a correction? Again, no.
In “Illinois Dem wants to repeal religious exemptions for vaccinating children” (February 20, 2020), LifeSiteNews reporter Calvin Freiburger stated: “While the media often fixate on parents who oppose vaccines over their potential to injure children who receive them, they tend to overlook another group that supports vaccines in general while having an ethical conflict with vaccines derived from aborted babies’ cells.” Specifically, Freiburger alluded to “a number of vaccines produced using two cell lines, MRC-5 and WI-38, obtained from 1960s-era elective abortions.”
Here, Freiburger raises a concern shared by all pro-lifers who believe that human beings are endowed by their Creator with an inalienable right to life from beginning to end; that is to say, from the scientifically indisputable beginning of human life at the moment of fertilization, when a human egg and sperm merge into a single-cell zygote, until natural death
The MRC-5 and WI-38 cell lines are used in the production of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, which is routinely given to children in Canada, the United States and numerous other countries. There is no alternative vaccine that is untainted by abortion, so the question arises: Is it right for pro lifers to have their children inoculated with the MMR vaccine?
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Church addressed this issue in an instruction Dignitas Personae On Certain Bioethical Questions that was issued in 2008 with the personal approval of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most esteemed Christian theologians of his era. In this authoritative doctrinal document, faithful Catholics are advised: “Danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.”
With the concurrence of Pope Francis, the Pontifical Academy for Life advised in a follow-up note released in 2017 that the cell lines currently used in the manufacture of vaccines are so “very distant from the original abortions” that using them can “no longer imply that bond of moral cooperation indispensable for an ethically negative evaluation of their use.” Far from urging a boycott, the Academy admonished the faithful that they have a “moral responsibility” to take advantage of these vaccines “in order to avoid serious health risks for children and the general population.”
Leading pro-life Evangelicals take essentially the same position. For example, in “Is Receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Ethical?” (Public Discourse: October 15), Jeffrey Barrows and Jonathan Imbody, senior officials, respectively, within the Christian Medical & Dental Associations and the Christian Medical Association, advise that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is ethical because it “was not developed or produced using any tissue from an aborted child, though it did make use of a biological assessment tool that relies on a cell line (HEK-293) derived from an aborted baby in 1972.”
Barrows and Imbody also note that in “Research Using Cells of Illicit Origin and Vaccines from Fetal Tissue” (Public Discourse: May 27), the eminent, Catholic philosopher Christopher Tollefsen held that parents have a duty to take advantage of COVID-19 vaccines like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s because: “Refusal to vaccinate oneself and one’s children will not only put oneself and one’s family at risk; it will put others, especially the vulnerable elderly and those suffering from certain chronic illnesses, at significant risk as well.”
“This consideration goes to the heart of Christian ethics in a way that virtually every believer understands,” Barrows and Imbody conclude: “Vaccinating yourself and those who depend on you is an important component of following the command to love thy neighbor.”
On December 14, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a joint statement on the new COVID-19 vaccines. Referring to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in particular, they concluded:
“In view of the gravity of the current pandemic and the lack of availability of alternative vaccines, the reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are sufficiently serious to justify their use, despite their remote connection to morally compromised cell lines.
“Receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community. In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.”
Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales and the great majority of Catholic bishops around the world agree that Catholics can choose in good conscience to have themselves and their children vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19. But this means nothing to the Catholic editors of LifeSiteNews. In defiance of all these leading Catholic clerics and theologians, they are urging the readers of LifeSiteNews to sign a petition which summons the United States government “to STOP FUNDING aborted baby vaccines” like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 products.
Neither Pfizer nor Moderna used cells from an aborted fetus to design and develop their COVID-19 vaccines. What upsets the LifeSiteNews editors is that in testing these vaccines, they used the HEK293 aborted fetal cell line to create humanized mice…. This type of Frankenscience,” the editors railed, “has no place in a civilized society.”
A so-called “humanized mouse” is a mouse that has been transplanted with a human cell like HEK293. The first of these “humanized” mice was developed in 1983 and since then, they have been widely used in the development, production and testing of not only vaccines, but also numerous cancer drugs and other medications. Given that hardly any vaccine or cancer drug developed over the past 30 years has been untainted by knowledge derived from testing with cells like HEK293, it follows by the logic of the pro-life extremists at LifeSiteNews that all these medications are “aborted-baby” drugs that conscientious people should abhor and shun.
Certainly, LifeSiteNews Editor in Chief Westen deplores that the vast majority of pro-life leaders do not share his extremist view. In a blog post on October 6, he lamented: “All over the world today we have the vast majority of bishops pushing for a vaccine regardless of whether or not it is derived using the cell lines of aborted babies.” Instead, he commended the counsel of Athanasius Schneider, a dissenting auxiliary Catholic bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, who warned in a recent interview with LifesiteNews: “Should there be a mandatory global vaccine for coronavirus derived from cell lines from aborted babies, ‘then we will enter into the time of the Apocalypse.’”
In reaction to that statement, a thoroughly alarmed Westen commented: “Wow…. Are we ready for this? The only preparation can be making sure we are in the state of grace with fervent prayer and penance.”
Meanwhile, in an ”Urgent message to all LifeSite readers” on November 24, Steve Jalsevac, co-founder and managing director of LifeSiteNews, decried that: “During the last few weeks, we have been seeing a dramatic lack of reporting by all mainstream television, radio, and postings in social media of positive news about Trump’s legal teams’ successes or positive or corrective news about the COVID virus…. People cannot possibly understand what is really happening now on the election and COVID issues if all they rely upon is the tsunami of constant lies in the regular media.”
Setting aside the alleged successes of Trump’s legal team in proving that Joe Biden and the Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election, what “positive or corrective news” has LifeSiteNews reported about the COVID-19 virus? Jalsevac enthuses: “Another astounding story that we recently published was on Dr. Michael Yeadon, a former vice president and chief scientist for international vaccine giant Pfizer, who has flatly rejected the need for any vaccines to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end. He heroically publicly stated, ‘There is absolutely no need for vaccines to extinguish the pandemic…. The pandemic is effectively over.’”
“This man is about as knowledgeable and credible as you can find in the world,” Jalsevac testified. “That article has gone viral because it has made people realize that, YES, he makes sense!”
Really? Were Yeadon and Jalsevac right to insist that the COVID-19 pandemic was effectively over on November 24?
Most certainly not. In early December, the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients was increasing so rapidly in Alberta that the provincial government made contingency plans with the federal government and the Red Cross to establish four emergency field hospitals to handle the overflow.
Meanwhile, in “Grim Day in U.S. as Covid-19 Deaths and Hospitalizations Set Records” (December 3), the New York Times reported that the daily death toll from COVID-19 in the United States had reached 2,885, a tragic new record, and that the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations topped 100,000, nearly twice the peak set last spring. In addition, the Times noted on this same day that Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), had warned in a somber address to a business group that total deaths from Covid-19 in the United States could reach “close to 450,000” by February, up from fewer than 200,000 at the beginning of September. “The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,” said Redfield. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
Such dire predictions from medical experts on COVID-19 are routinely dismissed by the editors of LifeSiteNews. In “Johns Hopkins University academic: CDC data shows COVID hasn’t increased US death rate” (November 27), LifeSiteNews told its readers: “Using statistical analysis, a senior lecturer from Johns Hopkins University has demonstrated that COVID-19 has resulted in no excess deaths.”
Who, one might wonder, was the epidemiologist that came up with this sensational finding? And in what peer-reviewed scientific journal did she publish her evidence? As it happens, the senior lecturer in question, Genevieve Briand, is not an epidemiologist, but an economist at Johns Hopkins University, and she had her findings published not in a scientific journal, but in the university’s student newspaper.
Even so, was Briand right? Evidently not. In “Excess deaths associated with COVID-19” (October 23), epidemiological experts at the CDC reported: “From late January to early October 2020, the US had 299,000 more deaths than the typical number during the same period in previous years…. At least two of three of these excess deaths were from COVID-19.”
In defiance of the great majority of epidemiologists as well as the leading Catholic theologians and philosophers who have addressed the COVID-19 issue, the Catholic editors at LifeSiteNews would have us believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is over; that official COVID-19 death statistics in the United States, Canada, Britain, France and all other countries are grossly exaggerated; that face masks are useless; and that the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines are dangerous, immoral and unnecessary.
Note the tragic irony: By spreading such outlandish misinformation, LifeSiteNews, an organization dedicated to upholding the sanctity of human life, is actually fostering a cataclysm of disease and death by COVID-19.
Of course, LifeSiteNews is right to point out that the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and other mainstream media have serious faults and transparent biases. But at least when reporting the news, these mainstream publications can usually be counted upon to get their facts right and promptly to correct errors.
The same cannot be said for LifeSiteNews. No doubt, the editors of that publication mean well, are dedicated pro-lifers and would never publish anything they know to be a lie. But these editors are also so incompetent as journalists and so wedded to an array of bizarre conspiracy theories that the conclusion is clear: Readers of LifeSiteNews cannot reasonably rely on this publication for news on any topic that is fair, balanced and true.