By Nailah Dossa
In Glasgow a program to vaccinate schoolchildren against the influenza virus has been delayed after an outcry by Muslim parents who found out that the product contains pork gelatine.
The new vaccine is administered as a nasal spray rather than the traditional injection. But parents in Pollokshields, Glasgow, which has a high number of Muslim pupils, have complained the spray contains gelatine.
The pilot program will see the new Influenza vaccine administered to over a 100,000 primary school pupils from various Scottish health board areas.
Following up the concerns by Muslim parents, a letter was sent to Glasgow schools citing a World Health Organisation (WHO) study in 2001 which states that Islamic and Jewish scholars had agreed that pork gelatine was permissible within a vaccine.
However, there are contradictory opinions that rival the study, Luman Ali, from the Federation of Muslim Organisations, said: “Pork is not allowed to be ingested at all – it’s something Muslims feel extremely uncomfortable about.”
Dr Sarah Beltagui, from the Muslim Council of Scotland, said they wanted the information on the vaccine contents 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.
Rollouts of the vaccinations were put back by the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, whose area contains most of Scotland’s Muslims but the program is to be resumed with parents being offered the choice of the new nasal spray vaccine or the traditional injection. Scottish Government Spokesperson told The Muslim News that, ‘“Vaccination is voluntary and we want all parents to have the information they need to make an informed choice. If Muslim parents continue to have any concerns, children can be given an alternative safe injectable vaccine which does not contain any porcine gelatin but provides less protection than the nasal spray.”
Dr Syed Ahmed, consultant in public medicine with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said the health board had written to parents with children in the pilot schools to reassure them about the nasal vaccine.
He said: “We have highlighted that the WHO offered guidance in 2001 following a meeting of more than 100 Muslim scholars in Kuwait. The scholars agreed to issue advice to Muslims that gelatin of pork origin used in vaccines and other medicines is judicially permissible as the gelatin in the final product is a completely changed substance.”
Scottish Government Public Health Minister, Michael Matheson, said that “Parents should be reassured that the existing guidance issued in 2001 from the WHO, prepared by religious scholars, advises that gelatine of porcine origin used in vaccines and other medicines is judicially permissible as the gelatine in the final product is a completely changed substance.”
He assured that the Scottish Government “very much appreciates the help and advice provided by the Muslim Council in response to these concerns and a letter has been issued to parents of children in Glasgow to offer reassurance.”
In addition Aileen MacArthur, a Health Communications Official for the Scottish Government said, “We are working closely with the Muslim Council and have asked them for a meeting over the next couple of weeks.”
The Scottish Government is gradually expanding the annual flu vaccination program to include all children aged two to 17 over the next few years.