Explained: How Indonesia is demanding to know if COVID-19 vaccine is halal
New Delhi, Jan 06: With just one-sentence, Sinovac, the Chinese vaccine maker, wrote to Indonesia's state-owned vaccine manufacturer in July that the coronavirus vaccine was "manufactured free of porcine materials".
Though the letter did not reveal much of the situation, Indonesian clerics needed more details. A vaccine, that is laced with the smallest amount of pork DNA could dissuade some followers of Islam from inoculation in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population. However, Sinovac took months to provide more information, which came only this week.
The Chinese company's delayed response has been yet another challenge in Indonesia's already fragile vaccine rollout. With the highest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia, the country is eager to drum up support for its goal of inoculating 181.5 million adults within 15 months.
But, the question that has been revolving around the looming questions about the safety of the Sinovac vaccine and whether it is halal, or allowed under Islam, are making the efforts more complicated for the government.
"There shouldn't be any concern about whether this vaccine is halal or not halal," President Joko Widodo said. "We are in an emergency situation because of the COVID pandemic."
It can be seen that Indonesia has recorded nearly 800,000 infections and more than 23,000 deaths, staggering numbers in a region where virus cases have remained relatively low.
Inoculations are set to begin with health workers, soldiers and police officers in the coming weeks, once health authorities are satisfied that the Sinovac vaccine is safe and effective. Joko said he would go first to show there was nothing to fear.
However, the vaccine must also undergo another round of approval process by the Ulema Council, an influential group of Muslim clerics that decides which products are halal in Indonesia.
Islamic authorities in other countries where Muslims make up a sizable share of the population, have already ruled that coronavirus vaccines are permissible, even if they contain pork gelatin, which is used to stabilize many inoculations.
Earlier, the Vatican released a statement declaring coronavirus vaccines "morally acceptable" for Catholics who might be opposed to a vaccine developed with stem cells from fetuses aborted decades ago.
"In pharmaceutical products, halal is one of the important elements after the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine itself," Bambang Heriyanto, a spokesman for Bio Farma, Indonesia's state-owned vaccine manufacturer said.
The Ulema Council is expected to issue a decree, or fatwa, authorizing the use of the Sinovac vaccine in the coming weeks, but the nature of its findings could affect how widely it is accepted in Indonesia, especially among the country's many conservative Muslims.