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Former DUP health minister Jim Wells refuses to take current Covid vaccines over ‘ethical concerns’

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DUP MLA Jim Wells

DUP MLA Jim Wells

DUP MLA Jim Wells

A DUP MLA, and former health minister said he is not willing to take any of the current Covid-19 vaccinations licensed for use in Northern Ireland, because of “ethical concerns”.

He said he was concerned over how the vaccine had been developed and tested claiming historically vaccines had used “stem cells and tissues from aborted babies”. 

While cells derived from elective abortions have been used since the 1960s to manufacture vaccines, no fetal cell lines or human tissue were used to manufacture any of the available Covid-19 vaccines in the UK.

Instead, the vaccines use mRNA technology which is synthetically produced.

Virologists have stressed the vaccines contain only synthetic material and no human cells are used in their development. The Department of Health has also said the vaccines contain no human element.

South Down MLA Jim Wells (64) said his “very strong pro-life" views was the reason for his decision. 

He called for the Department of Health to roll out the German-made CureVac vaccine, which he would prefer, stressing he was not “anti-vaccine”.

He said he did not wish to dictate what anyone else should do.

Mr Wells said his concern was the historic development of vaccines: “Which are still being tested in the same way. I want nothing to do with that industry.”

When asked why he was assured the CureVac vaccine was not developed and tested using procedures he deemed ethically concerning he responded: “It isn't.

When asked if he had been in contact with the Health Minister or the manufacturers to confirm the methods used for CureVac, Mr Wells responded he had not.

 “But I am clear, there is plenty of material out there that it is not and all the people lobbying me, that’s what they want.”

In February, Mr Wells wrote to the Health Minister Robin Swann asking when the CureVac vaccine would be introduced in Northern Ireland. The MLA says he never received a response and was planning to “chase this up”.

In February, the UK agreed a 50 million-dose order for a Covid-19 vaccine with German biotech company CureVac. However, the vaccine has not yet been approved for use by the MHRA body which regulates vaccines.

“What I have asked the minister is when CureVac is going to be made available to those who have an ethical problem with what is available at the moment,” said Jim Wells.

“This vaccine has been available for many months but not been made available to people in Northern Ireland.

“It is not an anti-vaccine issue it is an ethical issue. I have had a large number of Christians who have said to me: ‘Look we are not opposed to vaccines and are not into these conspiracy theory issues and have nothing against vaccination, we just would prefer to have an ethical vaccine option’.

“The simple solution to this is to enable everyone in Northern Ireland to have a vaccine and to make the vaccines which are ethically sound.

“I’m not on the anti-vaccine bandwagon and I don’t want to do anything to deter people who have a different moral perspective on this.

“I’m just saying to our government, get your act together and make this available to people like myself, I’d even pay for it, to enable those of us who have a moral problem to be vaccinated.”

In a response to the Belfast Telegraph, the Department of Health did not make a direct comment on Mr Wells’ remarks or the status of the CureVac vaccine. 

Instead, the Department linked to the official government information for the three vaccines available here, showing no human tissue listed in the ingredients.

In December, responding to DUP councillor John Carson who said he would not take a vaccine, Health Minister Robin Swann said people objecting to Covid-19 vaccination on anti-abortion grounds should think again.

"It is disappointing that people calling themselves pro-life would be objecting to vaccination programme that will save many lives,” said Robin Swann.

"It is the case that the development and testing of some vaccines can include the use of human cell lines grown in labs, having been replicated from fetal cells obtained in previous decades following abortions.

"If people want to object on those grounds and leave themselves unprotected from Covid-19 that is their choice.”


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