Indonesia’s Moslem leaders have declared measels and rubella vaccines contain ‘illicit’ substances and are therefore unclean.
Indonesia’s Moslem leaders have declared measels and rubella vaccines contain ‘illicit’ substances and are therefore unclean.

Indonesia’s ‘war’ on vaccination

INDONESIA's immunisation campaign is in crisis. In August, its Muslim leadership officially forbade the use of the measles and rubella vaccine. It's follows have taken the ruling to heart - with a dramatic drop in vaccinations.

The religious proclamation - a fatwa - is not legally recognised or enforceable. But the Indonesian Ulama Council's followers are obeying.

It was an unexpected outcome.

The Indonesian Department of Health had approached the council in the hope of receiving a fatwa in support of their vaccination program. After all, the equivalent Malaysian council had made it compulsory for its Muslim followers to get vaccinated in 2016.

However, the Ulama Council (MUI) instead declared the measles and rubella vaccine to be "unclean".

It asserts the vaccines use a gelatine as a stabilising agent which is based on 'illicit' substances derived from pigs.

Jewish and Muslim organisations around the world have ruled this not to be a problem.

But not so Indonesia.

"The government should strive to the fullest, as well as through WHO and Muslim-populated countries, to pay attention to the interests of Muslims in terms of the need for sacred and halal medicines and vaccines," Secretary of the MUI Fatwa Commission Asrorun Ni'am Sholeh said.

 

Vials of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Gelatine derived from pig material is necessary to keep the active agents stable. Picture: Getty
Vials of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Gelatine derived from pig material is necessary to keep the active agents stable. Picture: Getty

 

Now Indonesian health authorities face an uphill battle in eradicating large pockets of communicable diseases.

A recent campaign on the island of Java had met with a near 95 per cent coverage rate. It had targeted almost 70 million children.

But it had sought religious backing among suspicious, more isolated, communities.

Many believe vaccination to be a Western conspiracy to control Asia, or a Catholic attempt to eradicate Islam.

Now they have to contend with vaccinations being declared religiously 'illegal'.

In some districts, vaccination coverage rates have been as low as 7 per cent.

For the vaccination program to be successful, rubella needs to have had a blanket reach of more than 80 per cent of the population. Measles needs 95 per cent.

The Ulama Council admitted the lack of vaccination posed a public health risk. It also noted there was no alternatives to the measles-rubella vaccine in use.


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