Reading Time: 2 minutes It may currently be 'impossible' to produce a vaccine without animal use - so what exactly is a plant-based vaccine? Credit: Adobe. Do not use without permission.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

While many people around the world rejoiced as vaccines began testing to fight the deadly COVID-19 virus, there were some who remained critical. One of the reasons for this is because some of them – including the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – are tested on animals. However, plant-based vaccines made from rice, corn, potatoes, or lettuce may be the answer, with some entering the clinical trial phase.

But are they vegan?

Plant-based COVID-19 vaccine

Dubbed a ‘natural alternative’, plant-based vaccines are faster to make, cheaper, and safer, according to scientists. Reports indicate they’re also more effective on the immune system, presenting more antigens.

One of the plant-based COVID-19 vaccines currently under production is by the biopharmaceutical company Medicago, which claims to be a world leader in plant-based vaccine development. It’s currently in phase three of clinical trials, with more than 30,000 people taking part.

Additionally, it’s attracted many vegans and vegetarians in the trial in Argentina, one of the world’s largest meat consumers per capita.

Is the plant-based vaccine vegan?

Global news service, DW News, ran a segment (embedded above) on the news that included an interview with Zacharie LeBlanc, of Queensland University of Technology.

Leblanc confirmed animal cells are usually used in the development of most vaccines. Even though plant-based vaccines do not come from animal cells, all vaccines still go through a process of being tested on animals further down the lines, meaning even plant-based vaccines are not vegan.

‘I wouldn’t say animals are being harmed in the process’, he said however and added he doesn’t think scientists can eliminate animals completely from the process of vaccine development in the near future.

Benefits of plant-based vaccine

The advantage of plants is that their ‘scalability’, LeBlanc adds.

They said: “It’s cheaper because of the scalability if you think about the inputs of growing a plant…it’s visibly a lot cheaper.”

LeBlanc added that it’s also safer. The ‘hurdle’, however, is getting through clinical trials – though a plant-based vaccine could be available ‘in the near future’.

Should vegans accept vaccines tested on animals?

Utilizing plants to cure disease certainly makes sense, but if it still tests on animals, what can vegans do?

The Vegan Society released a statement regarding this last year.

It reads: “The definition of veganism recognizes that it is not always possible or practicable for vegans to avoid participating in animal use, which is particularly relevant to medical situations.

“In the case of COVID-19, vaccination will play a fundamental role in tackling the pandemic and saving lives.

“As there is currently a legal requirement that all vaccines are tested on animals, at this point in time it is impossible to have a vaccine that has been created without animal use.”

Emily is a News and Features Writer for Plant Based News. She has previously worked as a journalist in Devon, UK, reporting on local issues from politics to the environment.