Indonesia is currently experiencing what doctors have called an “extraordinary” outbreak of diphtheria that has already killed dozens of people this year, mostly young children. The government is currently undertaking a massive immunization program aimed at giving millions of children the diphtheria vaccine.
One of the main reasons for the outbreak, and one of the major challenges in getting Indonesian children vaccinated for diphtheria and other preventable diseases, is a growing anti-vaccination movement in the country largely fueled by unfounded suspicions that vaccines contain ingredients that are haram to Muslims, such as elements of pig DNA.
While we knew that the anti-vaccine movement has had a huge impact on immunization levels throughout the country, a statistic recently shared by the head of disease prevention and control at the Bogor Regency Health Office, Agus Fauzi, still shocked us.
According to Agus, about 94% of babies in Bogor, located just south of Jakarta, have not received mandatory basic immunization.
“There are still many people who are doubtful about whether vaccines are halal or haram,” Agus said on Monday as quoted by Liputan 6.
The Indonesian Doctors Association has already assured the public that the diphtheria vaccines are halal. However, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Indonesia’s highest Muslim clerical body, made headlines across the country last week saying they had not certified the vaccine halal, claiming that it had never been submitted to them for testing. MUI officials did say that Muslims could take potentially non-halal medicines if it was a dire health matter but insisted that they could not yet say whether the diphtheria vaccines were halal or not.
The high percentage of children lacking basic immunizations in Bogor has already led to tragic results, with data showing that there had been nine cases of diphtheria in the regency so far this year and that two children died due to complications from the disease.
Agus said that news of the diphtheria outbreak had led to a large number of parents coming to local health centers to get their children vaccinated, and that they were hoping to get 95% of children immunized eventually. But tragically for some children, it may already be too late.