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COVID-19

Doctor says no fetal tissue used in vaccine production, after Surrey councillor rails against ‘ingredients’

Physician clarifies vaccine production after Pettigrew makes religious objection at council meeting

A Lower Mainland physician says any suggestion of fetal cells or tissue being used in the production of COVID-19 vaccines – as a Surrey city councillor hinted at this week – is flat out wrong.

“We know for a fact that the current vaccines that are used against COVID do not contain any fetal tissue,” Dr. Navdeep Grewal, a physician at the Delta and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals, told the Now-Leader. “That’s a no-brainer as far as we’re concerned. Anything saying otherwise is misinformation, or disinformation if you must.”

Grewal’s comments came days after a discussion sparked up in Surrey city council chambers about the creation and testing of vaccines.

Coun. Steven Pettigrew railed against vaccine ingredients at the Nov.8 Surrey council meeting

During the Nov. 8 council meeting, Coun. Steven Pettigrew voted against a motion that requires staff, volunteers and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or to participate in a rapid-testing program in the new year. In a subsequent discussion, after Coun. Laurie Guerra said council should implement the same strategy for themselves as for staff, Pettigrew alluded to “ingredients” in the COVID-19 vaccines that he doesn’t agree with.

READ ALSO: City of Surrey requiring staff, volunteers, contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Nov. 8, 2021

“I mentioned there’s ingredients in there. I’m trying not to be graphic about these ingredients but I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. These ingredients are used in the creation or the testing of these vaccines,” he noted during the public meeting.

“Morally and spiritually and religiously, there’s no way that I’m going to put those in my body. There’s no way that I’m going to stand before my Creator and say that I profited by the death of other people — and I’m not talking about adults. That’s something I do not support.”

The Now-Leader has reached out to Pettigrew for further comment but he has yet to respond.

While Pettigrew didn’t explicitly say which ingredients he was referring to during the council meeting, in some religious communities people have claimed fetal cells or fetal tissue have been used in the vaccines, leading to a religious exemption for those who don’t support abortions.

But to say there is fetal tissue being used in the vaccines is “absolutely not correct,” says Dr. Grewal.

Dr. Navdeep Grewal is a physician at the Delta and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals.

Since last fall, she has worked with the South Asian COVID Task Force to provide culturally safe and relevant information about the pandemic and worked to dispel vaccine myths.

“As a vaccine educator, I spent probably the last year discussing proper information, factual information, evidence-based data-driven information about vaccines and their production.”

READ ALSO: South Asian COVID Task Force working to dispel vaccine myths, Feb. 6, 2021

Back in the 1970s, Grewal said, some scientists at the time used donated aborted fetuses for scientific research.

“They used these fetal cell lines at that time to then create a lineage of cultures that those fetal cells could be recreated.”

Those cell lines, she said, have gone through “multiple, multiple divisions, like thousands of divisions since then from that one initial, original cell line.

“So that cell line, yes, it may have at one point originated from a fetus, but what they’re using in the research and development of both the mRNA vaccines and the viral vector vaccines is basically a group of cells whose lineage traces back to one, perhaps, aborted fetus, but there’s no current fetal tissue in there.”

Grewal said she’s aware of the claims of fetal cells or tissue being used in the production of the COVID-19 vaccines, with it becoming more prominent since mandates have started to be issued.

“As people are sort of pushed into a corner, more and more, they’ll find other more creative ways to try to push back against something that they don’t believe in, fundamentally.”

She points to similar issues in Muslim or Jewish communities during the initial vaccine rollout where people worried they weren’t halal or kosher.

“I was looking this up about how many religions around the world do tell you not to get vaccinated,” Grewal noted. “None of the world’s major religions do, and I think there’s a handful, like four religions — very small religions — that would say do not get vaccinated, but they don’t make up a large number of people.”

However, if people do claim a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine, Grewal said they should not be taking common, over-the-counter medications either.

“Absolutely, that is what we need to say back to people who say they claim religious exemptions, particularly from these vaccines. Well, if they’re going to do their own research and know what the studies are showing, then they also need to understand that the research and development phase of all drugs, pretty much all drugs, involves cell lines that often are created from fetal cell lines way back in the 1970s.”

A WebMD article from September says a hospital system in Arkansas is requiring employees to confirm they won’t use common, over-the-counter medications in order to receive a religious exemption for the vaccine. The list includes medications such as Tylenol, aspirin, ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, Preparation H, Claritin and several others.

As for South Asian communities, Grewal said vaccine hesitancy has dropped. She said there is data that “supports the fact that even though the hesitancy rate in South Asians was higher than mainstream Canadians at the beginning of the rolloutof the vaccines, we’ve now since gone down to one of the lowest hesitancy numbers amongst racialized groups.”

She said it “speaks to the fact that when people are given proper facts and they’re not just getting their information from word-of-mouth or WhatsApp or Facebook” that science works.

But Grewal said there is only so much that can be done for those who have not yet chosen to be fully vaccinated.

“We can bring vaccine to people, we can bring proper education to people. But at some point, we have to realize they have their own reasons for not wanting to accept what we were giving them,” she explained.

“They have mistrust of the government or mistrust of the science they’re being shown and I don’t think there’s anything more we can do for them that we haven’t already tried.”

– With files from Tom Zytaruk



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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