Pig or no pig? Indonesian Ulema Council and AstraZeneca at odds over vaccine

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Flickr
The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Flickr

Just as it came out of the blood clotting controversy, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is now in the center of a swine-related issue, which may hamper Indonesia’s efforts to administer the vaccine.

Related — ‘Cautious’ Indonesia suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine over blood clot concerns

On Friday, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the highest Islamic clerical body in the nation, said its analysis of the AstraZeneca vaccine showed that it contains pig byproducts. While that would normally make it forbidden for injection under Islamic law, MUI said the vaccine can still be administered to Muslims due to extraordinary circumstances posed by the pandemic.

On Sunday, AstraZeneca denied that the vaccine contained or was even exposed to any pig or animal products during production. The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical firm stressed that the vaccine has been labeled halal (permissible for consumption) in other major Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE.

Today, MUI stood by its findings, saying that its Food and Drugs Analysis Agency (LPPOM) found traces of porcine trypsin — a reagent widely used during the manufacture of biological medicinal products, in the vaccine.

“Well, we trust LPPOM,” MUI fatwa (religious edict) commissioner Hasanuddin Abdul Fatah said.

Hasanudin added that while the AstraZeneca vaccine may be used during times of emergency, the exemption is automatically invalidated should alternative vaccines that contain no pig products become available.

Indonesia has so far used only CoronaVac, developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac, in its mass vaccination program, which began in mid-January. The country has received over 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine out of an expected 23 million doses from a WHO-backed initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.

The Health Ministry said the AstraZeneca vaccines can be administered starting this week. Notably, it has been rolled out to six provinces, namely East Java, Bali, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), the Riau Islands, North Sulawesi, and Maluku, which, with the exception of East Java and the Riau Islands, are not predominantly Muslim regions.


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