JAKARTA: Indonesia’s most influential Islamic organisation said AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is “haram” or forbidden for Muslims, but its use can be temporarily permitted due to a lack of alternatives.
The Indonesian Council of Ulema or MUI said it has conducted studies on the vaccine to see if it is “holy and halal” for Muslims to use.
The studies, said head of the council’s fatwa department Asorirun Niam Sholeh, showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine uses pork-derived trypsin – which is needed to break down proteins – in its production. Pork is considered unclean by Muslims.
“COVID-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca is haram because it uses pork-derived trypsin in its production,” Mr Sholeh told a press conference on Friday (Mar 19).
“Nevertheless, the use of COVID-19 vaccines produced by AstraZeneca is for now permissible.”
Mr Sholeh said the use of the vaccine is permissible by Islamic laws because there is an urgent need to get people vaccinated immediately and the clean and halal substitution is not yet sufficient.
The permission to use COVID-19 vaccines produced by AstraZeneca will no longer be valid, Mr Sholeh said, when there is a sufficient supply of clean and halal vaccines.
The MUI is an independent organisation but its fatwas, or religious edicts, are followed by millions of people living in this Muslim-majority country.
The decision could reduce confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccines, leaving Indonesia with just one approved vaccine, developed by China's Sinovac Biotech, for use in its nationwide vaccination drive.
Indonesia also has agreements with other vaccine companies, including Novavax and Pfizer, though none has arrived in the country yet.
Indonesia received 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via the COVAX vaccine-alliance scheme this month and is set to receive some 10 million more in the next two months.
The MUI announcement on Friday came just as Indonesia's Food and Drug Regulatory Agency (BPOM) recommended that the administering of AstraZeneca vaccines should be resumed.
On Mar 15, Indonesian health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin announced that Indonesia was delaying the administering of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine due to reports of blood clots among some recipients in Europe.
The BPOM’s recommendation came after the European Medicines Agency found that despite the vaccine may be associated with very rare cases of blood clots, the benefits still outweigh the risks.
The agency said on Friday: “Right now, COVID-19 infection is still high globally, including in Indonesia. Therefore, despite the fact that the vaccination can lead to post-vaccination events, the risk of death due to COVID-19 is still higher. Therefore, citizens must receive COVID-19 vaccinations as scheduled.”
The BPOM warned that extra precautions must be taken when inoculating people with low or high platelet count. Platelets are cells that help the body form clots to stop bleeding.
Indonesia aims to inoculate 181.5 million people by mid-2022.
The Southeast Asian country has been grappling with the worst outbreak in the region, having recorded more than 1.4 million infections and 39,000 deaths.
Ms Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the government's spokesperson for COVID-19 vaccination, said the government welcomes the decisions by both the MUI and BPOM. She added that the government will start distributing AstraZeneca vaccines on Monday.