Clerics rule on vaccine containing pig material

In Indonesia, pig components can make the difference between market acceptance and rejection of a vaccine--but by a higher authority than regulators. The country's top Muslim clerical body has declared two brands of meningitis vaccine as halal, or lawful, thanks to the absence of pig components in their production. The vaccines, made by Novartis and China's Tian Yuana, are therefore allowed for use by Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca. The approval follows visits by members of the clerical body, The Indonesian Ulema Council, to the vaccine plants.

Saudi Arabia requests that haj pilgrims carry a certificate proving they've been vaccinated.

Muslims had long been using a GlaxoSmithKline vaccine, which the clerics say contains traces of pig products. Lack of alternatives and an emergency declaration led to a bypass of the rule. But the vaccine was declared haraam two years ago, forbidden for pre-haj use. The vaccine itself has no traces of swine elements, the clerics say, but the production process includes their use.

Pig components are not considered haraam in the U.S. vaccine business. But a couple of vaccines had a close call earlier this year when regulators called a temporary halt to the use of a GSK rotavirus vaccine found to contain pig virus DNA. A similar discovery was made in a Merck rotavirus vaccine, but it was not subject to the halt because by then scientists had ruled out a safety risk.

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