With new fatwa, Indonesian Ulema Council allows MR vaccine despite containing traces of pig

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

An ongoing Indonesian government program aimed at getting around 31.9 million children immunized with the measles-rubella (MR) vaccine has been hampered by objections raised by Islamic institutions over whether the contents of the vaccine are halal (permissible for consumption in Islam) or not, but a recent ruling by the nation’s highest Islamic clerical body should hopefully allow the vaccination drive to reach its goal.

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) had demanded that they be allowed to examine the contents of the MR vaccine, which were imported from India, to determine whether the contents were halal. Many MUI branches and officials had told followers to not use the vaccine until after it had been inspected. After finally receiving a sample, MUI said yesterday that they had found traces of pig DNA in the vaccine, which is haram. Despite that, MUI issued a fatwa (religious edict) allowing the vaccine’s consumption due to its importance and current lack of alternatives.

“The use of the MR vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, for the time being, is permissible,” MUI Fatwa Commission Head Hasanuddin wrote in a statement yesterday, as picked up by Kompas.

MUI said they issued the fatwa on the grounds that medical experts believe that there would be no negative side effects from the traces of pig DNA in the the MR vaccine. That said, they are urging the government to provide halal vaccines in the future.

Previously, the health ministry defended using the MR vaccine before it has received halal certification from MUI on the grounds that it had been certified safe by the World Health Organization and been used in hundreds of other countries worldwide, including other Muslim majority nations. On top of that, they argued 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. However, MUI had previously stated that the threat of measles and rubella is not at an emergency level that would make that fatwa applicable.

This is not the first time MUI’s concerns about halal certification have 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.

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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