Health care professionals in Indonesia have faced huge setbacks in their battle to contain the spread of immunizable infectious diseases such as diphtheria and measles due to growing public skepticism about vaccines. Unlike in some countries where anti-vaxxers rely on pseudoscience fears about autism or other side effects, in Indonesia the skepticism about vaccines come down to religious concerns and the country’s top Islamic clerical body continues to help fuel this dangerous trend.
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The Riau Islands chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) released a letter on Monday urging Muslim citizen of the region to not get measles-rubella immunizations because the vaccine has not been certified halal by the central MUI.
The letter says that MUI Riau’s board of directors had a meeting on Saturday and agreed on four points they wanted to deliver to the public:
First, until now the MR vaccine has not received halal fatwa from central MUI. Second, they called on the government health agency to postpone administering the vaccine until it had received halal certification from central MUI. Third, they called on all Muslims to not get the vaccine until central MUI issued their halal certification. Fourth, they called on the central MUI to immediately hold a discussion related to the MR vaccine with the House of Representatives (DPR), Ministry of Health, and related institutions to convey the results of MUI’s decisions throughout Indonesia to become a reference in conducting socialization.
The timing for the letter is due to the government’s current archipelago-wide MR vaccine drive, which started today and is scheduled to run until September.
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 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.
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.