In recent weeks, rumours have done the rounds suggesting that the vaccines currently being rolled out against Covid-19 may not be halal or kosher, and so not permitted for Muslims and Jews respectively.
Last year, a delegation of Indonesian politicians and Muslim theologians visited China: the politicians to talk business, the theologians to seek assurances that the vaccines do not contain pork products, in the form of gelatin.
In January, presumably having received the necessary assurances, Indonesian president Joko Widodo set off the campaign in his country – the biggest Muslim population in the world – by receiving his first dose of the Sinovac vaccine, followed soon after by the second.
But the rumours persist. Gelatin, produced by boiling animals skin and bones, including those of pigs, is indeed used in some vaccines as a stabilising agent.
“It is true that in some vaccines gelatin is used that is made from surplus animal products,” vaccine expert Dr Isabel Leroux-Roels told the VRT.
“Those are the so-called protein vaccines, for example against measles. But in the corona vaccines we have approved, those from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, no gelatin is used.”
The same is true for the two vaccines still awaiting approval, Curevac and Johnson & Johnson. The E-number for gelatin, E411, is not to be found in the ingredients list.
Then came a second question: is it permitted to take the vaccine during Ramadan, which this year runs from 12 April to 12 May? The dates coincide with the middle of the vaccination of the majority of the population, once the front-line workers and the oldest and least healthy of the population have been vaccinated.
To give a definitive answer for Belgian Muslims, the Muslim Executive of Belgium issued a statement to the faithful: “Vaccines in no way conflict with the observance of the fast and its validity,” the message states.
And it is backed up by the Council of Theologians, the highest religious authority in Belgium for Muslims: “The vaccine remains indispensable to save human lives.”
As far as Jews are concerned, in December the website Jewish News published an open letter from 70 Jewish doctors in the UK, written to quell the rumour that the vaccines contained non-kosher ingredients. They also quashed the conspiracy theory that the vaccine could cause infertility.