Indonesian Islamic council aims halal vaccine ruling
Published: Jan 07, 2021 06:53 PM

Workers in Indonesia load over 760,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac early Tuesday morning. The vaccines are expected to be distributed to 34 Indonesian provinces as part of the country's mass vaccinations efforts, with President Joko Widodo set to be given the first shot. Photo: Xinhua

Indonesia's highest Muslim clerical council aims to issue a ruling on whether a COVID-19 vaccine is halal, or permissible under Islam, before the country is due to start a mass inoculation program using a Chinese vaccine next week.

The world's largest Muslim-majority country plans to launch vaccinations on January 13 after obtaining 3 million doses from China's Sinovac Biotech.

Controversy over whether vaccines adhere to Islamic principles has stymied public health responses before, including in 2018, when the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa declaring that a measles vaccine was forbidden under Islam.

"Our target is before first injections start, the fatwa has to come out then," said Muti Arintawati, an official at MUI in charge of analyzing food and drugs to assess whether they are halal.

Indonesia is struggling with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Southeast Asia and authorities are relying on a vaccine to help alleviate dual health and economic crises ravaging the country.

Asked about the risk of public resistance, a health ministry official said the government would wait for MUI's decision. In a bid to boost acceptance, President Joko Widodo has said he will be the first to receive a vaccine shot next week.

Dicky Budiman, a researcher at Australia's Griffith University, said authorities needed to be transparent on the halal certification to reassure the public.

Ahmad Ishomuddin, an official at Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's biggest mainstream Muslim organization, said emergency vaccines that were not halal could be used if there were no other options.
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