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Abortion row over vaccine

A leading Catholic school has pulled out of the Government's measles immunisation programme because it says the vaccine was derived from an aborted foetus. However, the Catholic Church approves of the programme.

The Department of Health last night condemned the decision by Father Leo Chamberlain, headmaster of Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire, amid growing concern that other Catholic schools may follow. But Fr Chamberlain said: 'An absolute respect for human life requires the condemnation of direct abortion and refusal to benefit from the products of an evil action.'

The vaccine protects against measles and rubella, or German measles. Rubella infection in early pregnancy can cause mental handicap and eye, heart, liver and lung abnormalities in the foetus.

All rubella vaccines in current use are derived from 'seed' cells taken from the lung tissue of a male foetus aborted in 1966, 17 days after the mother had contracted rubella. SmithKline Beecham, manufacturer of the vaccine, said apart from the original isolation of the virus and original development of the tissue culture cell line, 'there is no foetal tissue used in the production of rubella vaccine today'.

In a letter to parents of the 600 boys at Ampleforth, Fr Chamberlain and Fr Jeremy Sierla, head of the junior school, accept this fact but say involvement in the campaign could be interpreted as condoning the abortion.

Ampleforth pupils will be vaccinated against measles only, using another vaccine.