Health Department in Bangka Belitung halts MR vaccine drive over lack of halal certification

Child in Indonesia receiving an immunization vaccine. Photo: AFP
Child in Indonesia receiving an immunization vaccine. Photo: AFP

Yesterday, the Indonesian government started a massive month-long nationwide drive to get around 31.9 million children immunized with measles-rubella (MR) vaccines. However, their efforts are being held up in many regions due to messages from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the nation’s highest Islamic clerical body, telling Muslims not to get the vaccine yet as they have not yet certified them as halal.

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Following a letter sent out by MUI’s chapter in Riau on Monday urging Muslims to not get the MR vaccine, the Provincial Health Office of Bangka Belitung has announced that it is temporarily stopping its MR vaccine program due to the lack of halal certification.

MUI Central sent out a letter on July 25 saying that it had never tested the MR vaccination, produced by state-owned Biofarma, that were being used in the immunization drive to make sure it was halal. In response, MUI Bangka Belitung sent a letter to MUI Central asking about the MR vaccination drive starting on August 1.

Alhamdulillah, the letter we sent was quickly responded to and the provincial government immediately issued a letter of postponement,” said Ahmad Luthfi, the secretary General of MUI Bangka Belitung told Kompas.

Bowing to MUI’s demands, the Provincial Government of Bangka Belitung Islands issued an official letter of temporary suspension for the program.

Lufti said that officials from MUI Central would meet with the Healthy Ministry in Jakarta on Friday to discuss the vaccine’s halal status and said he hoped their discussion would bring clarity to the matter.

There have been numerous stories about parents and schools in other regions where the immunization drive is taking place rejecting the MR vaccines due to the lack of halal certification such as South Kalimantan.

Central MUI Deputy Secretary General K.H. Tengku Zulkarnain was quoted on by Klik Balikpapan on Saturday as saying he was angry at the government for not submitting samples of the MR vaccine or the diphtheria vaccine being distributed throughout the country for MUI’s halal certification process for over a year and demanded the government stop using them until the certification could be given.

Last week, officials from the Ministry of Health admitted that the MR vaccines produced by state-run Biofarma had not yet been certified halal but that it was currently in process. However, they said that MUI had already issued a fatwa in 2016 allowing vaccines to be administered to children who would otherwise get sick, regardless of whether they had been certified halal or not.

Sadly, this is not the first time MUI’s obstinate attitude over halal certification has endangered the health of the country’s children. Late last year, Indonesia was experiencing what doctors called an “extraordinary” outbreak of diphtheria that killed dozens, mostly for  young children. The government undertook a massive immunization program aimed at giving millions of children the diphtheria vaccine, but MUI made headlines across the country saying they had not certified the vaccine halal, claiming that it had never been submitted to them for testing either.

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MUI has long been accused of using their halal certification authority as a lucrative money making scheme. Last year, the government enacted legislation that would transfer final authority over halal certification to them in 2019, though MUI would still play a major role in the certification process. Also, the government promised the certification process would be free, unlike in the past.


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