No halal vaccine yet, top pharmacist says

injectionNo halal vaccine yet, top pharmacist says

Yuli Tri Suwarni

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) claimed it has been able to provide halal meningitis vaccines to haj pilgrims this year.

But the top executive of a state-owned vaccine and serum producer said Saturday the ability to produce a porcine-free vaccine was still very far away.

While repeatedly emphasizing his respect for the religious council, Iskandar, the president director of Bandung-based PT Bio Farma insisted that there were currently no halal meningitis vaccines available in the world.

He also said that Indonesia remained the only country where the vaccine remains controversial. In other Islamic or predominantly Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, the vaccine has been widely accepted because of the lack of an alternative.

“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 said on the sidelines of the 6th annual meeting of the Islamic Development Bank on Vaccine Production Self Reliance in Bandung, West Java.

The four-day meeting, which ends Monday, will feature the vaccine controversy on its agenda, Iskandar said.

Some of the participants from 12 Islamic countries also expressed surprised at the controversy, saying they allowed the use of the vaccine in cases of emergency and if it served a good purpose. The meningitis vaccine was first produced in 1930s by using swine enzymes.

“In Saudi Arabia, the vaccine did not spark a debate. In Malaysia, it is also no longer an issue. It seems the MUI is very committed to declaring it haram, but that remains the authority of the MUI,” Iskandar said.

Saudi Arabia requires all haj pilgrims — including those on the minor (umroh) pilgrimage — to be inoculated against meningitis. For 10 years, the government allowed the use of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine. But last month, the MUI declared the vaccine haram, despite the absence of any traces of swine in the final product. Fifteen Muslim-majority countries including Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Iraq allow the use of the vaccine.

The MUI recommended replacing the vaccine with ones from Swiss Novartis and China’s Mevac, which it said were halal. MUI leader Amidhan Shaberah told The Jakarta Post he was confident that the two products were halal after visiting the laboratories.

In October, about 230,000 Indonesians will perform the haj pilgrim. Some of the would-be pilgrims have had to call off their journey 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 MUI decision was criticized by Prof. Muladno from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) and physician and veterinarian Mangku Sitepu. They said that since first used in the 1930s, the seed had undergone several regenerations.

“Whoever the producer, they still use the same parent seed [pig enzymes],” Muladno told Tempo newsmagazine.

“The public is confused by the MUI decision, because they know very well that there is still no vaccine that is completely free from traces of pig,” said Mangku, who became a physician several years after completing his veterinary studies.