A nurse prepares Russia's "Sputnik-V" vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for inoculation, September 2020 (photo: Reuters)
Khaled Omran, the secretary of fatwa affairs at Egypt's Dar Al-Iftaa, the state body responsible for issuing religious edicts, said it is religiously permissible for Muslims to take medication or vaccines that were manufactured using pork gelatin components, since the nature of the gelatin is altered into halal during chemical treatment.
Omran's remarks to Al-Mihwar’s 90 Minutes programme on Monday come as Muslim communities debate whether some vaccines which are manufactured using pork products - prohibited in Islams - should be taken amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
"Through undergoing chemical treatments, pork products inside any medication are altered from their prohibited nature (haram) into a permissible state (halal)," Omran said.
"These processes make these pork-related ingredients permissible and ritually pure (taher)," he added.
The vaccine-pork topic sparked controversy in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, as some coronavirus vaccines, which may contain pork-derived gelatin, make their way worldwide.
In October, Indonesian Muslim clerics stepped off a plane in China to inspect whether the coronavirus vaccine developed by the Chinese Sinovac Biotech is permissible to use. The Indonesian government already announced several vaccine procurement deals with Sinovac, totaling millions of doses.
Omran urged Muslims to focus on cooperation to put an end to the pandemic.
He added that the correct approach in the debate should be resolving the coronavirus crisis, not adding problems, stressing that the approach adopted by Dar Al-Iftaa is in line with Prophet Muhammad’s instructions.
Pork-derived gelatin is known to be widely used as a stabiliser to ensure the safety and effectiveness of some vaccines during storage and transport by protecting live viruses in the vaccine from challenges, including temperature.
According to a leaflet published by the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care, pork gelatin, which is used in manufacturing vaccines, is highly purified, unlike when used in foo. It is also broken down into tiny molecules called peptides before it can be used in vaccines.
Some companies have worked for years to develop pork-free vaccines. However, safety concerns, including shorter life spans for vaccines, have impeded these efforts.
The Associated Press recently quoted Salman Waqar, general secretary of the British Islamic Medical Association, as saying that demand, existing supply chains, cost, and the shorter shelf life of vaccines not containing pork-derived gelatin means the ingredient is likely to continue to be used in a majority of vaccines for years.
Spokespeople for Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca have said that pork products are not part of their COVID-19 vaccines, according to AP.
In Egypt, the health ministry earlier this month announced receiving two batches of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm, becoming the first African country to receive it.
Egypt also plans to locally manufacture the Sinovac vaccine to meet Egyptian and African demands amid the pandemic, according to Health Minister Hala Zayed.
AP noted that Sinovac, Sinopharm and CanSino Biologics, also a Chinese company, did not respond to its requests for ingredient information on their vaccines.