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Debate over religious permissibility of vaccinations

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The decision on whether parents should vaccinate their children has always been a contentious topic, with the spotlight now being thrown on the religious permissibility of immunisation. The debate has surfaced following concerns on the preparation of some vaccines, after reports that porcine elements are used in the manufacturing process. According to some doctors in the field of paediatrics, more parents are now opting not to have their children immunised, due to religious preference.

The matter has raised the alarm of doctors and role-players in the health sector, particularly after the City of Johannesburg launched an emergency measles vaccination campaign. The announcement was made in a statement warning residents to be cautious of a possible outbreak of measles this winter season after 11 cases were reported in Region G near Lenasia, south of Johannesburg.

According to the Islamic Medical Association (IMA), many parents are uncomfortable with the current measles vaccine provided by state health clinics, which contains gelatine. This gelatine is derived from pork.

While South African ulema mull over the issue, the general scholarly consensus is that the vaccine is permissible. This ruling emerged in 1995 when more than 100 Muslim legal scholars participated in a seminar convened in Kuwait by the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences on the topic: “The Judicially Prohibited and Impure Substances in Foodstuffs and Drugs.” At the conclusion of this seminar, scholars agreed that the transformation of port products into gelatin alters them sufficiently to make it permissible for observant Muslims to receive vaccines containing pork gelatin.

The seminar also considered the objectives of Islamic Law, known as the Maqȃsid al-Sharī`ah which are:
1. Preservation of Religion (ḥifẓ al-dīn).
2. Preservation of life ((ḥifẓ al-nafs).
3. Preservation of progeny ((ḥifẓ al-nasl).
4. Preservation of intellect ((ḥifẓ al-`aql).
5. Preservation of wealth (hifz al-mȃl).

The legal scholars agreed that vaccination upholds the five tenets of Maqȃsid al-Sharī`ah.

“As the IMA, we endorse vaccination for children because of the overall benefit of vaccination. Vaccination aims to strengthen the immunity, strengthen the body against fatal disease and at a community level, it leads to healthy, productive and useful members of society. It works both ways, you vaccinate your kids to protect them, but you also vaccinate them to protect the community,” said the IMA’s Dr Riyaaz Ismail, a practicing GP.

The debate reared its head when messages started circulating on Whatsapp last week questioning whether vaccines are permissible. A Johannesburg based pharmacist wrote to a Mufti asking for a religious verdict on the issue, after he approached a manufacturer of the vaccine product who confirmed that the source of the gelatin used is derived from the pig.

Many muftis agree that if the vaccine is a necessity, and there is no halal alternative, then it would be permissible. In Gauteng, some commentators weighing into the matter have also questioned how one determines whether there is a necessity, to what extent the halal option is available and at what cost.

Some ulema have challenged the ruling, arguing that vaccination generally is not permissible. Dr Ismail said the IMA did not agree with this, as “it’s against the principles of Islam not to vaccinate”.  The association would therefore need to engage the ulema to deliberate on the broader issues around vaccination.

As health officials embark an emergency vaccination plan in Gauteng, authorities do not want a repeat of the Cape Town measles outbreak five years ago, which saw local clinics unable to deal with the influx of patients.

According to the World Health Organization, measles is a highly contagious and a serious disease caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family. It is normally passed through direct contact and is also airborne. It infects the respiratory tract then spreads throughout the body. The disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally

Disease prevention is one of the goals of public health and vaccination is an important component. Through global vaccination initiatives many infectious diseases such as polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella (German measles), diphtheria, mumps and tetanus, that were once common in the different countries of the world, have finally been brought under control and in many developed countries virtually eliminated.

“Muslims should therefore take cognisance of the fact that over the years, vaccines have succeeded in preventing countless cases of infectious diseases and their complications resulting in reduction of disabilities and literally millions of lives saved,” said Dr Ismail.

The IMA said it has consulted the Western Cape Department of Health on the sourcing of vaccines and have been told that alternatives are being researched.

The Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee is expected to issue a response on Wednesday. VOC

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