Indonesia plans to launch a vaccination programme on Jan 13 having already obtained three million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
However, inoculations cannot begin until Indonesia’s highest Muslim clerical council rules on whether the jab is halal, or permissible under Islam.
Controversy over whether vaccines conform to Islamic rules has hindered 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 analysing food and drugs to assess whether they are halal.
The world’s largest Muslim-majority country 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 devastating the country.
Asked by reporters about the risk of public resistance, a health ministry official said the government would wait for MUI’s decision.
In a bid to boost public acceptance, President Joko Widodo has said he will be the first to receive a vaccine jab next week.
Dicky Budiman, a researcher at Australia’s Griffith University, told Reuters that authorities need to be transparent on the matter of halal certification to reassure the public.
The New York Times has reported that Sinovac told Indonesia’s state-owned drugmaker Bio Farma that the vaccines were “manufactured free of porcine materials”.
Bambang Heriyanto of Bio Farma confirmed receiving the statement but said the halal status would be decided by MUI.
Ahmad Ishomuddin, an official at Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest mainstream Muslim organisation, said emergency vaccines that were not halal could be used if there were no other options.
This opinion was supported by some Muslim residents in Depok, south of Jakarta.
19-year-old student Muhammad Farrel told Reuters, “If indeed the vaccine contains non-halal ingredients and during the emergency period there are no other ingredients for the medicine, yes, it is permissible according to my religion.”