The United Arab Emirates’ highest Islamic authority, the UAE Fatwa Council, has ruled that coronavirus vaccines are permissible for Muslims even if they contain pork gelatin.
The ruling follows growing alarm that the use of pork gelatin, a common vaccine ingredient, may hamper vaccination among Muslims who consider the consumption of pork products “haram,” or forbidden under Islamic law.
If there are no alternatives, Council Chairman Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah said that the coronavirus vaccines would not be subject to Islam’s restrictions on pork because of the higher need to “protect the human body.”
The council added that in this case, the pork gelatin is considered medicine, not food, with multiple vaccines already shown to be effective against a highly contagious virus that “poses a risk to the entire society.
Dubai launched its Covid-19 vaccination programme Wednesday with a senior citizen and a nurse among the first to be inoculated using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the government said.
The UAE – which is made up of seven emirates including the capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai – approved the emergency registration of the vaccine on Tuesday, the same day the first batch arrived from abroad, the official WAM news agency reported.
Dubai “begins Covid-19 vaccination ‘Pfizer-BioNTech’ campaign”, the Dubai Media Office tweeted, along with pictures of men and women receiving the jab.
It added that the first phase of the rollout will target citizens and residents over the age of 60, adults with chronic diseases, people with special needs as well as frontline and other key workers.
Along with the elderly man and nurse, a paramedic, a police officer and a driver were among the first to receive the jab in Dubai, which has said vaccination will be “free of charge” for all citizens and residents.
The first batch arrived on an Emirates cargo flight from Brussels on Tuesday, WAM said.
“It has been our honour to transport these vaccines free of charge on our flight,” the airline’s chairman and chief executive, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, said in a statement.
The Dubai Media Office said that vaccinations will be available at six health authority facilities.
Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates had already approved the vaccine developed by Chinese drugs giant Sinopharm, which it said was 86 percent effective.
The vaccine produced by US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech – which proved to be 95 percent effective in late-stage clinical trials – is administered in two doses, 21 days apart.
The vaccine must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature much lower than standard freezers and which forced the company to develop special containers for transport.
Taking part in the vaccination campaign remains voluntary in the UAE, but officials have encouraged the population to be inoculated.
Two vaccines have undergone third-phase trials in the UAE – the Sinopharm project and Russia’s Sputnik-V, named after the Soviet-era satellite.
Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said in November that he had received an experimental coronavirus vaccine, joining other top UAE officials to take part in the trials.
The UAE has so far recorded more than 197,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, including 645 deaths.