KUALA LUMPUR - The much-anticipated Covid-19 vaccine need not be halal in order to be administered in Malaysia, said Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah, allaying concerns among local Muslims about the shots containing substances forbidden by Islam.
"If they can get the halal certification that would be better, but we do not register a medicine based on halal status or not. We do register non-halal medicine too," Dr Noor Hisham told The Straits Times.
Concerns over whether the Covid-19 vaccine is permissible for use by Muslims have surfaced as Malaysia signs deals with manufacturers to procure shipments.
The Special Muzakarah Committee of the National Council for Malaysian Islamic Affairs met on Dec 3 to discuss whether the vaccine can be administered to Muslims. Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri said last week that the decision would be announced after it has been presented to the King, who oversees religious matters, for his consent.
Malaysian pharmaceutical company Pharmaniaga has said it is planning to build the world's first halal vaccine facility by 2022.
Malaysia inked a deal with Pfizer in November to supply 12.8 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine for 20 per cent of the population. It has also entered a pact with the Covax Facility to cover another 10 per cent of the population.
The country is also set to obtain the vaccine from China, which has raised questions among Muslims over its halal status.
"Even if there is an ingredient which is not permissible, the chemical transformation process will make it clean and halal," said Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin in a Facebook post after attending last week's Muzakarah committee meeting.
Malaysia recorded 959 new cases on Wednesday (Dec 9) and five deaths. This brought the tally of confirmed cases to 76, 265, while fatalities totalled 393.
The halal issue in Malaysia can be a sensitive one, and can sometimes raise racial tensions.
While Muslims are obligated to make sure the food they consume is halal, cases of fake certificates or unhygienic production processes frequently make the headlines in Malaysia.
Malaysia's halal industry contributes to 7.8 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.
As the agency responsible for certifying if products are halal, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) has found itself at the centre of recent furores fuelled by social media claims that certain certified restaurants served pork.
Jakim has had to play the role of myth-buster lately, after a viral video claiming that halal-certified coffee shop chain OldTown White Coffee served pork, when it was actually chicken.
While Muslim Malays make up 60 per cent of the country's 32 million population, a video released by Jakim last month revealed that nearly 70 per cent of halal certificate applicants were not bumiputeras - a term used to jointly refer to the Malay Muslim majority and indigenous tribes.
As at Dec 2, a total of 6,403 applications for the halal certification have been approved this year, out of 7,853. Of those that were successful, 67 per cent were non-bumiputera applicants.
The bulk of these were for products (62 per cent), and eateries (22 per cent).
OldTown White Coffee is far from being the only victim of fake news regarding its halal status. Jakim has had to post 99 statements this year, rebutting hoaxes and inaccurate information.
It also began a series on its Facebook page last week, debunking misinformation over posers such as whether the earth is flat and whether Muslims are allowed to play online battle game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
"Spreading fake news is a serious matter. It is like an epidemic that must be handled quickly, and firmly," Mr Bukhari Md Akhir, director of Jakim's Halal Management Division, told ST.