Saturday, September 4, 2010

More scientists question halal vaccines

More scientists are challenging an edict from the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) declaring a brand of meningitis vaccine forbidden, or haram, for pre-haj vaccinations.

Two years ago the Council banned Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline vaccine, which Indonesian hajj pilgrims had been using for 10 years, saying that it contained traces of swine products.

The ban on Glaxo vaccine has stirred controversy among medical experts, who believe that no meningitis vaccine is swine-free, including those manufactured by the Switzerland-based Novartis and China’s Tian Yuan, which the Council declared halal, or acceptable, in July.

Yarsi University professor of medicine, Jurnalis Udin, told The Jakarta Post recently that meningitis vaccine producers obtained their seed stocks from the C11 strain of Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, which was produced and developed only by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in Maryland, the US, in the 1960s.

“The institute produced the seed stocks, which were grown using the Mueller-Hinton medium, which includes using swine enzymes,” he said, adding that international academic journals confirmed the fact.
Jurnalist said the Council’s claim that the Novartis vaccines were swine-free could not be held accountable through the lenses of science. “The common ancestor of seed stocks used for all meningitis vaccines had ‘come into contact’ with pig enzymes in the first place [during the initial isolation process of N. meningitidis bacteria],” he said, adding that Novartis had to have derived its vaccine seed stocks from the progenitors developed by the WRAIR.

Umar Anggara, a Gadjah Mada University professor of organic medicine, concurred. He said when the vaccine seed stocks “touched” the enzymes, it meant there was a potential they could be “contaminated” by the original swine materials used.

He added that such enzymes served as “cutters” to break long protein chains, from which the bacteria fed. “In the process, the swine enzymes are not contained within or penetrated into the bacteria, which become the seed stock for meningitis vaccines. The enzymes position [in the isolation process]
is only tangent to the bacteria,” Umar said.

Umar added that this was due to a series of complicated purification processes. Currently, many meningitis vaccine companies, including Glaxo, use an animal-free medium in developing seed stock for vaccines.

Jurnalis, also a member of the scientific society of The New York Academy of Sciences, said if the Council considered the Glaxo vaccine forbidden, the Novartis vaccines had to be classified in the same way.

The use of Glaxo vaccines in many Islamic countries, such as Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, is due to the lack of an alternative, and it has served a good purpose, he said.

The Council, however, tried to find other alternatives to Glaxo, and in July, it claimed that the Novartis and the Tian Yuan vaccines did not “touch” or were not contaminated by pig enzymes in their manufacturing processes, as they originally contained only bovine elements.

Jurnalis, however, questioned the credibility of using bovine components in such products.

The Novartis vaccines are now taking over Glaxo’s 10-year monopoly in meningitis vaccinations for Indonesian haj pilgrims, because China’s Tian Yuan vaccine is still waiting for clearance from the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency. (tsy)

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