Monday, September 6, 2010

The ministry may be sued over vaccine

Novartis Vaccine Halal??

A consumer rights group may sue the government for failure to inform the public about pig enzymes used to make a meningitis vaccine intended for Muslim pilgrims, an official said Friday.

Indonesian Health Consumers Empowerment Foundation chairman Marius Widjajarta said Friday that the group would gather support from the public and the media
and file a class action lawsuit against the Health Ministry and the Food and Drugs Monitoring Agency (BPOM).

“They have violated the 1999 Consumer Protection law and the 2008 Public Information Law, which guarantee the public and consumers the right to be informed about safety and the details of a product’s ingredients — in this case, the Novartis meningitis vaccine,” Marius said.

The government wants to procure the Italian-made vaccine to replace the vaccine made by Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline that Indonesian hajj pilgrims have been using for the last 10 years.

The Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) previously issued an edict declaring that the vaccines made by Novartis and the Tian Yuan in China were halal, or acceptable for Muslims, and that Glaxo’s vaccine was forbidden, or haram.

The MUI said that Glaxo vaccine contained traces of pig enzymes, while the two other do not.

The edict has been challenged by some Muslims scientists, who believe that both Glaxo and No-vartis obtained their seed vaccine stockbetween the 1960s and the 1980s from overseas research institutes.

International academic journals say that during that period, the research institutes produced seed stock using the Mueller-Hinton medium and thus “came into contact” with pig enzymes.

Those scientists have questioned the edict, saying that if the MUI considers the Glaxo vaccine haram, the Norvatis vaccine must also be declared forbidden.

Lili C. Wahid, a legislator from the National Awakening Party (PKB), said that the Health Ministry, the BPOM, Novartis as well as the MUI had been skirting the issue.

“This is a big business. The Novartis vaccine costs almost four times as much as Glaxo’s. Logically, there must be a game being played, and I’m afraid this is just going to further confuse our society, especially potential haj pilgrims,” she said.

Lili, who is a member of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organization, demanded that the MUI revoke its edict and explain to the public its basis for banning Glaxo’s vaccine.

“I want the council to be honest about this issue. We’re in the Ramadan fasting month,” she said, adding that she also questioned the MUI’s edict declaring China’s Tian Yuan vaccines acceptable.

“The vaccines are still waiting for clearance from the Moni-toring Agency. How did the council make such a decision?” she said. (tsy)

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