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Indonesia: Race is on to create “halal” measles vaccine

24 Aug, 2018
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n Indonesian pharmaceuticals company has said it is racing to produce a “halal” form of the measles-rubella vaccine amid concerns that conservative Muslim parents might deny their children’s inoculation on the grounds that it contains traces of pork.

The state-owned Bio Farma confirmed its research after the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), considered to be the Southeast Asian nation’s most authoritative Muslim body, declared the vaccination to be ‘haram’, or religiously forbidden.

MUI quickly clarified that in light of the dangers posed by the diseases, Muslims should continue to use the vaccine until an alternative was found.

However, its initial declaration that the vaccine was ‘unclean’ has provoked fears that conservatives may still shun the injection for religious reasons.

Bambang Heriyanto, corporate secretary of Bio Farma, said that the company was working together with MUI to develop new products that would address the problem.

“We are working so that the MR vaccine does not use haram or najis [unclean] materials in its production process,” he told the Jakarta Post in a statement.

“It will take a lot of research and a long time to replace one of the components of the MR vaccine,” he said. “It could take up to 15 to 20 years.”

Last year the Indonesian government launched a national  immunisation campaign targeting all children between the ages of nine months and 15 years, with the aim to eliminate the diseases by 2020.

The deadly threat of measles in the 260 million-strong developing nation was brought home in January when an estimated 100 children died in Indonesia’s Papua province.

But despite the risks, CNN Indonesia reported that a number of towns suspended the vaccine before the MUI announced their ruling, or fatwa, on whether the shot conformed with Islamic laws.

The MUI fatwa commission secretary Asorun Ni’am said that it would only permit the medicine on the “condition of necessity” as there was no other option.

“Competent and trusted experts have explained the dangers posed by not being immunised due to the lack of a halal vaccine,” he said in a statement.

But the conditional response, which coincides with a “conservative turn” in Indonesia’s majority Muslim society could have health implications, said Professor Tim Lindsey, the director of the Centre for Indonesian Law at the University of Melbourne.

“I think it could well obstruct the whole vaccination process to some degree, possibly even significantly in some areas,” he told the Telegraph.

The development comes as the number of measles cases has spiked in Europe – there have been 41,000 cases so far in 2018, double the number in the whole of last year. Fears over the safety of the vaccine are are seen as one reason for the dramatic rise. 

The MUI, a non-government organisation which receives state funding, oversees all Muslim organisations in Indonesia, and has powers to issue halal certifications and regulate Islamic banking.

The organisation also has the power to sway public opinion and often takes an extremely conservative position, including a recent fatwa to condemn “secularism, pluralism and liberalism”, said Professor Lindsey.

“It does have a lot of influence and it’s also been very skillful in using its fatwas,” he said. Although fatwas are technically not binding, the MUI’s decisions are very persuasive, he said.

“If you have the authority of being a fatwa giver then your fatwas can hold a great deal of weight. So Indonesians are technically not bound by that but many Muslims in Indonesia, particularly more conservative ones, will take it very seriously and give it a lot of authority,” said Professor Lindsey.

“MUI is very good at issuing a fatwa on provocative social issues and this is one of the ways in which it has won authority.”

International NGOs assisting with the immunisation programmes declined to comment on the potential impact of the debate on the suitability of the vaccine.

Dr Anung Sugihantono, director general of the ministry of health, stressed that the MUI’s position that the vaccine could be used as a “prevention even if haram”.

He added: “The ministry of health serves to facilitate communities who are in need of the measles-rubella vaccination.”

This entry was posted on Friday, August 24th, 2018 at 12:58 pm and is filed under Latest News.

Literature Literature archive

Baalen, S. van. 2018 Research Ethics 14(4), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747016117750312

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