The J&J Vaccine Moral Dilemma

by Mukhya Devi Dasi

Some devotees have expressed concerns over reports that the latest COVID vaccine by Johnson & Johnson may contain traces of human fetal tissue from so-called “293 cells,” and they ask if there is bad karma accrued from taking this vaccine to protect themselves from the virus. I reached out to the GBC SPT team for a report from their medical advisors who work in this field. Here is their response:


“While abortion is generally abhorrent, 293 cells are an immortal cell line created before most of the grad students who culture them were born. Its use does not promote abortion in any way. In fact, it does the opposite: 293 cells can be cultured indefinitely, and so there is no reason to be interested in trying to culture more human fetal tissue. What’s more, nearly every molecular biology lab on the planet uses 293, including those at both Pfizer and Moderna. In fact, nearly every pharmaceutical product produced in the last three decades was developed using model systems which require 293 cells. What should be avoided is the direct use of primary human fetal stem cells, because this WOULD incentivize abortion, but fortunately the use of human fetal stem cells has fallen out of favor since the discovery of the Yamanaka factors, which allow for induction of pluripotency in adult somatic cells.”

FAQ: What is the spiritual perspective on depending on medicines or vaccinations that are products of biological research and experimentation? Are we severely implicated in karmic reactions? As devotees, shouldn’t we just have faith in the Lord’s protection and not in mundane science or such measures?

“We cannot deny the fact that scientific research uses animals or animal/human derived components to develop medicines, vaccines, etc. Public approval for any drug (as simple as aspirin or paracetamol) or vaccine comes only after receiving a compliance from the relevant national health authority, whose decision is dependent solely on the evaluation of safety and efficacy data generated in the research laboratories using mice, guinea pigs, rabbits and monkeys, called pre-clinical trials. Therefore, anyone who wants to completely avoid benefiting from the use of such products would technically have to eschew the use of any medical treatments or biological knowledge developed or updated within the past forty years.

Even Ayurveda depends on intense testing on animals. Here is an excerpt from a morning walk with Srila Prabhupada on June 27, 1976, in New Vrindaban:

“Prabhupāda: Yes. Yes. Āyurveda. There is a book, Dravya–guṇa. All kinds of herbs, metals, even different kinds of flesh of different animals, they are mentioned. Hundreds of different kinds of animals flesh, how it can be utilized for certain disease, the descriptions are there.

Hari–śauri: They use flesh for curing things?

Prabhupāda: Hmm?

Hari–śauri: They use flesh for curing diseases?

Prabhupāda: Yes. Animal-killing is only allowed when it is absolutely necessary, for medicine. Suppose by killing one animal hundreds of lives are saved, so that is allowed. One preparation is chagalaka-ghṛta. It is prepared… A live goat is put into the ghee with other ingredients, and that is a good medicine for tisis(?).

Hari–śauri: For?

Prabhupāda: Tisis(?) Tuberculosis.

Hari–śauri: Oh.”


Overall, to summarize, Srila Prabhupada wasn’t neglectful of his own health or the health of his disciples. In fact, Srila Prabhupada always concluded his letters with: “I hope this meets you in good health.” The underlying principle of Prabhupada’s instructions regarding health was “do the needful” for keeping body and soul together in order to serve Krishna.

Here are two relevant quotes from Srila Prabhupada’s letters to disciples:

“Regarding your physical malady, you should do whatever is required to treat it properly. Whatever is most practical.” (Srila Prabhupada Letter, May 7, 1975)

“One of the symptoms of a devotee is that he is kind, so if our Godbrother becomes ill it is our duty to help him get the proper medicine and treatment so that he can recover.” (Srila Prabhupada Letter, April 5, 1974)

Prahalad Maharaja prays (SB 7.9.19), “My Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva, O Supreme, because of a bodily conception of life, embodied souls neglected and not cared for by You cannot do anything for their betterment. Whatever remedies they accept, although perhaps temporarily beneficial, are certainly impermanent. For example, a father and mother cannot protect their child, a physician and medicine cannot relieve a suffering patient, and a boat on the ocean cannot protect a drowning man.”

In the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada states that unless one is protected by the mercy of the Lord, no remedial measure can act effectively. One should consequently depend fully on the causeless mercy of the Lord. “But, as a matter of routine duty, one must of course accept other remedial measures.” Thus, taking necessary treatment for curing ailments in no way undermines our faith in Krishna. As devotees, we do understand that Krishna is the ultimate protector. But it is also said, “do your best and let Krishna do the rest.”

A devotee uses everything in the service of the Lord, including his body. To underscore this, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu emphatically declared to Sanatana Goswami and Murari Gupta, and to many of His intimate associates, that their body is not their own property, but that it belongs to the Lord. In light of this principle, to protect the lives of devotees and our leaders from terrible diseases like cancer, Alzheimers, or COVID-19 (in the present context), it is necessary that we resort to therapies or scientific interventions without any hesitation or a second thought. We certainly want to save the lives of devotees and especially the leaders of our movement.

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