Opinion: Halal meningitis vaccine available worldwide

For many years, the fully halal meningitis vaccine was a dream for the Muslim world but now it is a reality. The long waited halal meningitis vaccine named ‘Menveo’ is now available worldwide. Many Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia have approved it and many have instructed to replace the previously used one with this halal vaccine.

According to the available information meningitis vaccine earlier produced, contained materials of bovine or porcine origin. Due to this reason Muslims had been complaining against those vaccines and urging for producing completely halal vaccine from halal ingredients. Due to this demand from the Muslim world an ‘apparently halal’ vaccine was produced named Mencevax. It is alleged that Mencevex even used porcine ingredients at manufacturing stage but the finished product could be made porcine free with the blessings of latest scientific technologies. Nevertheless, to say that Bangladesh is still using this ‘apparently halal’ vaccine though completely halal vaccine is available in the market. However, the government is under pressure to use halal vaccine especially for the hajj pilgrims.

The Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB) has recently forwarded a letter to the ministry of Health and Family Welfare on March 19 and urged the government to take necessary measures to collect halal meningitis vaccines for the hajj pilgrims.

It should be mentioned here that the Saudi government has already approved Menveo as a halal vaccine for its people. The Jakarta Globe reported that Indonesia’s health ministry has halted distribution of Mencevax for those planning the pilgrimage to Makkha, after the Indonesian Council of Ulema passed an edict banning the vaccine, citing the use of porcine enzymes. The health minister said that the country will not use the vaccines already purchased worth US$3.0 million.

Meanwhile, the government of Singapore has seriously been considering the issue as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) has also expressed concern over possible problems with the vaccine after clerics in Indonesia declared it haram or forbidden under Islamic law, as pork and pig-derived by-products are prohibited for Muslims.

The Islamic Services of America (ISA) has approved Menveo as a halal vaccine manufactured by Novartis. After visiting Novartis plant based in Italy ISA has issued a certificate mentioning that “there are no additives or processing involving forbidden or suspicious ingredients” in Menveo. The Indonesian Council of Ulamas has also issued halal certificate in favour of Novartis’s Menveo, in July 2010, which is the first conjugate vaccine commercially available in Europe as well, that helps protect meningitis against four major serogroups of Neisseria meningitides A, C, W135 and Y.

European Commission (EC) has also granted a marketing authorisation for Menveo products in all 27 European member states. Menveo was also approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on February 21, 2010.

Menveo vaccine is a conjugate vaccine but the previous one was polysaccharide vaccine that has lots of limitations. It is not effective for infants, it cannot immune memory and cannot ensure prolonged duration of protection. But Menveo vaccine is very much effective for the aforementioned conditions. It not only protects but also prevents the carrier of the germs to spread, among others. The halal vaccine has a boosting effect, and in repeated use it doesn’t lose power rather intensifies it.

According to the Ministry of Hajj of Saudi Arabia 2,927,717 persons performed the holy Hajj in 2011. While Bangladeshi Hajj pilgrims were 1,05,608 in number. This year around 1,20,000 Bangladeshis will perform the Hajj.

Every year millions of people from around 160 countries worldwide gather in Mecca for Umra and hajj. The Hajj has become the epicenter of mass migration of millions of Muslims of enormous ethnic diversity.

No other mass gathering can compare, either in scale or in regularity. communicable disease outbreaks of various infectious diseases have been reported repeatedly during and following the hajj. Therefore, to protect the pilgrims from communicable diseases the Saudi government has made it mandatory for the pilgrims to take meningitis vaccine before arriving at the holy place. During Hajj, carrier rates for meningococcal disease rise to a level as high as 80% due to intense overcrowding, high humidity and dense air pollution (according to www.eurosurveillance.org). It should also be mentioned here that the meningitis belt of Sub-saharan Africa, stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east has the highest rates of the disease.

Therefore, saving life is of foremost important for the host country. Besides, the hajis might not be infected and become a carrier of such communicable diseases is also a great concern. And when there is an issue for haram and halal, the muslims will accept the halal one- no doubt. So, it is expected that the government will also take necessary steps to provide halal conjugate vaccine for this year’s hajj pilgrims.

Md Sazzad Hossain