Indonesian Muslim body clears AstraZeneca use in emergency

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Indonesian Presidential Palace

In this March 8, 2021, photo released by Indonesian Presidential Palace, workers unload containers containing AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine upon its arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. Indonesia on Friday, March 19, 2021 cleared the AstraZeneca vaccine for use again after the European Union's drug regulator said the vaccine didn't increase the overall incidence of blood clots. (Indonesian President Palace via AP)

JAKARTA – AstraZeneca's vaccine against COVID-19 was cleared Friday for use in Indonesia after the drug regulator declared it safe and clerics in the world’s most populous Muslim nation approved it for emergency use.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy had delayed using AstraZeneca's product after more than a dozen countries in Europe suspended the vaccine due to blood clots developing in some recipients. The World Health Organization said it saw no evidence the vaccine caused the clots, and some European countries were resuming its use.

“The benefits of using the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the possible risks, so we can start to use it,” Indonesia’s Food and Drug Authority said in its announcement. It said the risk of death from COVID-19 was much greater and people should be vaccinated as scheduled.

At the same news conference, an official from Indonesia's highest Islamic body declared the AstraZeneca vaccine “haram,” or forbidden in Islam, for containing a pig derivative but still approved its use by Muslims given the emergency situation of the ongoing pandemic.

Asrorun Niam Sholeh, from the Indonesia Ulema Council, said trusted experts have explained the dangers posed by people not being vaccinated while halal vaccines are lacking.

“Indonesian Muslims must participate in the COVID-19 vaccination program implemented by the government to achieve herd immunity and be free from the COVID-19 outbreak,” Sholeh said.

He emphasized, however, that once the pandemic is under control or is no longer an emergency, the government should do better to guarantee the availability of halal vaccines, given the majority of Indonesians are Muslims.

Sholeh, the head of the council’s fatwa commission, said the AstraZeneca vaccine used trypsin, an enzyme that breaks down proteins, from pigs during its production process. He did not give further details.