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Office of the Mufti

Part 11 - Religious position on COVID-19 vaccine (English)

Religious position on COVID-19 vaccine

 

1 The COVID-19 global pandemic has caused critical health, economic, as well as social challenges to countries and societies around the world. Many countries have had to introduce tough laws and restrictions on movements and activities to limit the spread and transmission of the virus, and these, in turn, have caused major economic upheavals, with sharp downturns in trade and economic activity and increasing unemployment. Under these circumstances, the search for a vaccine has become extremely important to save lives, provide greater health assurance as well as to facilitate the return to economic activity and livelihood as much as possible.

 

2 Islamic jurisprudence places great importance on the sanctity and safety of human life and the protection of livelihoods. Accordingly, efforts that seek to protect human life from any form of danger and harm, such as the development of vaccines, are highly encouraged in Islam. Vaccines as a form of protection from diseases and ill-health are welcomed. Previous Muis’ fatwas, such as on the Rotavirus vaccine (2013) consider vaccine a form of preventive treatment from diseases encouraged in Islam.1 This is drawn from the Prophetic guidance that one could consume foods that offer some protection from illnesses.2

 

3 In this regard, the ethical principles of Islam are highly instructive as we face unprecedented challenges caused by the global pandemic. Whilst there have been plagues recorded in Islamic history, the specific rulings and teachings that addressed the needs of communities then were largely contextual to the scale of the problems and challenges they faced. It is therefore important to note that there is no reference to the existence of vaccines in early Islamic history or to a pandemic on a global scale. In this regard, we cannot be completely reliant on juristic precedents in Islamic classical jurisprudence as the main source of reference, but should look to the broader and more fundamental religious principles in discussing emerging challenges relating to COVID-19.

 

4 The religious view of the COVID-19 vaccine must therefore take a more holistic stance that transcends the issue of halalness or permissibility of its ingredients. There are three main aspects that need to be carefully considered.

 

Vaccine as a basic necessity

5 In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic with its wide-ranging consequences that have severely disrupted normal life and social activities, including religious worship, an effective and safe vaccine has become a basic necessity (daruriyyat). An effective vaccine is critical in saving lives and in ensuring that societies can function safely and cohesively. In the context of a global pandemic, such a vaccine is equivalent to other established basic human needs such as food and shelter. A vaccine therefore is an important means to uphold the principles of the sanctity of human life and the avoidance of harm as it protects society from the harmful effects of the COVID-19 virus.

 

Safety and efficacy of vaccines

6 Any COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved for public use must go through stringent and internationally-recognised medical safety standards and conform to strict ethical guidelines of government ethical bodies. It must have no known adverse medical effects and have been scientifically established as not expected to cause harm to those who take the vaccine.This is an important consideration in line with the principle of the avoidance of harm in Islamic jurisprudence. This is especially because of the fast pace of the COVID-19 vaccine development, testing and delivery. The development, manufacturing and administering of the vaccine should inspire confidence in the public that it is safe and effective.

 

Permissibility of ingredients used in vaccines

7 We must recognise that biomedical scientific research, including the development of therapeutics and vaccines, draws on a range of sources selected on the basis of scientific suitability for the aims of the research. These products may  contain natural ingredients which are either impure (najis) or prohibited for consumption in Islamic law, such as porcine-based, or have been treated with such substances in the production process.

 

8 Previous fatwas on therapeutic drugs and vaccines have considered such situations and ruled that in cases where there are no alternatives, products that contain prohibited ingredients can still be used for treatment because the objective is to save lives (fatwa on Rotavirus vaccine 2013). There are also situations that permit the use of impure or prohibited substances for treatment as evident in some Prophetic traditions (fatwa on drug Heparin 2015).4

 

9 In addition to this, the impure substances or prohibited items used in upstream processes would have undergone multiple layers of chemical processes such as filtration that would render them  undetectable or negligible in the final product. This is similar to the drug Heparin (the use of pig enzymes) and the Rotavirus vaccine (the use of trypsin). In Muslim jurisprudence, these processes are similar to istihala where the original substance changes its form and nature and no longer becomes prohibited.5 In such situations, the final product (drug or vaccine) is deemed as permissible for Muslim use. Vaccines can also be fully synthetic and do not contain any animal components or cells, such as in mRNA vaccines developed for COVID-19.6

 

10 We wish to add that the ways in which therapeutical medicines and vaccines interact with the body and their functions and effect on the body and its organs are not necessarily similar to food that is consumed for nourishment and nutrition. In addition, whilst there is a variety of food sources and options available, medicine and vaccines are usually much more limited and take much longer to be discovered, manufactured and disseminated, due to the complex and stringent processes involved in researching and producing them for safe use. To apply the same standards or rules of food consumption on vaccines simply on the basis that these are consumed internally or processed in the human body, is therefore inappropriate. Accordingly, the process to determine if a vaccine is halal on the basis that all its ingredients are halal, based on the criteria applied on food consumption alone, is inadequate and can be misleading. New methods of assessing therapeutics and vaccines should be required where the important distinctions and differences are carefully considered and taken into account.

 

Conclusion

11 The objectives of introducing a COVID-19 vaccine and the processes involved in producing vaccines in general are largely aligned to established Islamic principles and values. We would advise and encourage Muslims to be vaccinated once it is available and when the vaccine has been medically authorised as safe and effective, as this is a basic necessity to protect lives in the context of a global pandemic. Previous Muis’ fatwas on therapeutics and vaccines have also addressed concerns on the permissibility of such products for Muslim use from the perspective of the nature of its ingredients. Thus far, COVID-19 vaccines in development and/or trials do not diverge from these considerations. As such, we hold the position that a COVID-19 vaccine is permissible for Muslim use. The Fatwa Committee will review and assess suitability of vaccines for Muslim use if they fundamentally diverge from the principles above.

 
 
13 December 2020
 
THE OFFICE OF THE MUFTI
ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF SINGAPORE

[2] Hadith narrated by Imam Bukhari and Muslim on consuming seven pieces of Ajwah dates every morning as a preventative measure. See Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari (Beirut, Dar Ibn Al-Kathir) [5130], 5:2075; Muslim, Sahih Muslim (Beirut, Dar Al-Jiil) [5459], 6:123.

[4]Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), Fatwas of Singapore- Science, Medicine and Health, (Singapore: Muis, 2017), 136.

[5] Istihalah can be defined as transformation or conversion of material which involves changes in its composition and properties. It involves transformation of impure materials (from an Islamic law perspective) into something which is pure/clean. Please refer to al-Zuhayli, Qadaya al-Fiqh wa al-Fikr al-Mu’asir (Damascus, Dar al-Fikr, 1428H/2007), vol 1, pg. 58.

[6] Instead of delivering a virus or a viral protein, RNA vaccines deliver genetic information that allows the body’s own cells to produce a viral protein. Please refer to:https://news.mit.edu/2020/rna-vaccines-explained-covid-19-1211