The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) defended a recently issued fatwa (edict) declaring two brands of meningitis vaccine halal, dismissing experts’ claims that no vaccines for the disease were porcine-free as mere business competition strategy.
The belief that no meningitis vaccine is swine-free “is spreading because more than 50 countries now use the vaccine produced by GlaxoSmithKline [GSK]. Of course this is business competition,” MUI chairman Amidhan Shaberah told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
He said the fatwa on the “halal” vaccines was legitimate and was issued under the right procedures.
The MUI issued the fatwa last month, saying it found that vaccines produced by Swiss company Novartis and China’s Tian Yuana were halal and recommended their use instead of the vaccine produced by GSK.
The council issued a controversial fatwa banning GSK’s vaccine two years ago, but declared that its use was still allowed as no other vaccine was known to be halal. The country has been using GSK’s vaccine for the past decade.
Experts, however, have argued that no halal meningitis vaccines exist.
“We fully realize that in producing halal meningitis vaccines we must start with halal seed and nowhere in the world does one exist that is not synthesized from pigs,” Iskandar, the president director of state-owned vaccine and serum producer PT Bio Farma said over the weekend.
He said that in other predominantly Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, the GSK vaccine was widely accepted because of the lack of an alternative.
However, Amidhan insists that the MUI had examined the two recommended brands and found that they didn’t use pig products in the parent seed for their vaccines.
“I urge the government to not get involved in this competition among businesses. If there is a halal vaccine, then use it for the sake of [Muslims],” he said, adding that the MUI had no connections to the two vaccine brands it recommended.
“We see this issue from the point of view of [Islamic] law,” he added.
The Health Ministry has allocated Rp 54 billion (US$6.04 million) to provide meningitis vaccines to 211,000 haj pilgrims who are expected to leave for Mecca in October.
Some of the would-be pilgrims have had to call off their trip because they refused to receive the meningitis vaccination. Meningitis is a bacterial and viral disease found in nasal and esophageal fluids.
It is transmitted from person to person through coughing and sneezing.
The government of Saudi Arabia requests that all haj pilgrims and anyone traveling to the country during the haj period have a certificate proving vaccination against the disease, which can kill or severely disable people in a very short period.
The World Health Organization says that in 2009, 14 African countries reported more than 4,000 deaths due to 78,416 suspected meningitis cases.
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