Pork in Scots flu vaccine prompts Muslim concerns

A child receives a nasal flu vaccine. Picture: Contributed
A child receives a nasal flu vaccine. Picture: Contributed
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NHS OFFICIALS across Scotland have been urged to inform parents of children taking part in the flu immunisation campaign about the use of gelatine in the vaccine following concerns raised by the Muslim community.

Around 100,000 children in primary schools across Scotland are being offered the nasal spray Fluenz as part of a pilot scheme.

Vaccinations were due to start at 54 primary schools in Glasgow earlier this week as part of Scotland’s largest immunisation programme, recently launched by First Minister Alex Salmond.

But the programme was delayed for a few days after a small number of Muslim parents raised concerns over the links to pork gelatine in the vaccine.

Yesterday, the Muslim Council of Scotland called for information about the contents of the vaccine to be widely circulated across the whole country so parents could make an informed choice.

The Scottish Government said Health Protection Scotland (HPS) would be sending a letter detailing this information to all health boards, but it was down to individual areas how they used it.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said its school vaccination campaign would go ahead on Monday after letters were issued to parents informing them of the issue and giving their the choice of having the injectable vaccine instead.

In a statement the board said: “This programme was temporarily postponed in Glasgow City to address the concerns of a small number of parents with a religious objection to the pork gelatine which is an ingredient in the vaccine.

“We have now addressed this with a further letter to parents reassuring them that the World Health Organisation (WHO) offered guidance in 2001 following a meeting of more than 100 Muslim scholars in Kuwait.

“The scholars agreed that the advice to Muslim families is that gelatine of pork origin used in vaccines and other medicines is judicially permissible. Use of this substance in the flu nasal spray vaccine has also been approved by representatives of the Jewish community.

“We also confirmed that there is an alternative means of vaccination available and the programme will resume in Glasgow City schools on Monday 7 October.”

As well as the pilot programme in schools, the vaccine will also be offered to two and three-year-olds this year through their GP practices.

Parents who do not want to use the nasal vaccine in their children can opt for the injectable version, but officials warned this was not as effective.

Dr Salah Beltagui, from the Muslim Council of Scotland, said they wanted the information on the contents of the vaccine to be issued to parents across Scotland.

“The main issue is that this vaccine has porcine material and we are not satisfied that it passes the test of being allowed,” he said.

“The test is if it is transformed chemically to another material during the processing that would not show up, so we are discussing this with the suppliers.

“The other point is that we don’t see there is a necessity for using something that has a product which is not halal because this is only a precaution. It is not treating a person who is already ill, when there is a need to use something which is not used under normal conditions because we have this rule that necessities overrule prohibitions.

“From these two points we can’t say that this is allowed to be used by Muslims.”

Following discussions with the NHS, he said they had agreed that all parents should know about the contents of the vaccine and should be offered an alternative.

Dr Beltagui said that would continue discussions with the Scottish Government to find if there were other supplies of vaccine which could satisfy religious requirements.

He said that the ruling made in 2001 by the Muslim scholars was based on whether there was no alternative to a product containing gelatine. In the case of the flu vaccine, Dr Beltagui said there was an alternative available.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson: “Vaccination is voluntary and we want all parents to have the information they need to make an informed choice.

“If parents continue to have any concerns, children can be given an alternative safe injectable vaccine which does not contain any porcine gelatine but provides less protection than the nasal spray.”