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COVID-19 vaccine – do any ingredients go against my faith or ethical beliefs?

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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If you’re choosing to live your life according to a particular set of beliefs, you’ll naturally want everything to be compatible with this. It's natural to feel nervous if you belong to a particular religion, faith, or culture or if you exclude certain food groups on ethical or health grounds, such as vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free diets. It’s also true of those who have serious allergies, like eggs.

You’ll be particular about everything you put in your body – food, drinks, medicines, and, of course, vaccines. So, let’s look at the COVID-19 vaccine, arm ourselves with the facts, and address any concerns you may have.

Does it contain any meat products?

There are no animal products or animal-derived cells in the vaccine. Those who avoid pork are right to ask questions, as pork-derived products are sometimes contained in the coating of medicines or medicinal gummy sweets and syrups. But the COVID-19 vaccine is not one of these.

So, the vaccine is compatible with a halal diet, and the Muslim and Islamic faiths have encouraged people to get vaccinated to protect themselves.

Similarly, Jewish community leaders and rabbis have united in promoting the vaccine as safe for members of their faith and compatible with kosher tradition. Indeed, the vaccine has been endorsed by all major religious and faith groups, from Christian and Catholic leaders, to those following Hinduism.

Does it have any dairy products? Any egg?

The vaccine does not contain any dairy products, so it is entirely compatible with a vegan diet or lactose allergy or intolerance.

Those with egg allergies are right to ask specifically – a couple of other vaccines contain egg components, and there are sometimes available alternatives available. But no eggs or egg-derived products have been used to make the vaccine.

What about the production process? Are any animals harmed?

There is some misinformation online about possible fetal cells in the vaccine. It’s true to say that some lab techniques use cells from a fetus that was aborted in the 1970s, which helps to test the vaccine, but this remains firmly in the lab. No fetal cells make it to the vaccine and into your body.

Horseshoe crabs – ever heard of them? Possibly not. But they have valuable components in their blood that find any toxic bacteria and protect the crab from getting infected. Scientists use this technique on every batch of the vaccine to check it’s not contaminated with nasty bacteria that could do you some serious damage. It’s a legal requirement and the technique’s been around since the 1970s. Rest assured, none of the crab’s components makes it into the vaccine.

It’s true to say that the vaccines have been tested on animals (mice and monkeys). This is key in developing any vaccines or medicines, to ensure they are safe before trying them out on humans. You may have strong views on the rights and wrongs of this, but it forms a legal requirement of each country’s regulatory approval. They won’t pass a vaccine as fit for purpose (or indeed allow human trials before this) unless it has been tested on animals. While animal rights groups campaign to change regulations to allow non-animal techniques to be accepted for vaccines and medicines instead, the Vegan Society has come forward to say that it supports the vaccine as it "encourages vegans to look after their health and that of others, in order to continue to be effective advocates for veganism and other animals".

Is it ok for those following a gluten-free diet?

There is nothing in the vaccine to conflict with a gluten-free diet, therefore those with allergies, such as celiac disease sufferers, or those with an intolerance, are safe to go ahead.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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