PUBLIC health bosses have been slammed for failing to offer a 'suitable' vaccine to Muslim children as part of a major new flu immunisation programme.
Thousands of East Lancashire youngsters, aged between 11 and 13, are being offered the new nasal spray , which is made with gelatine derived from pigs, as part of a pilot scheme.
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But the decision not to offer an alternative has been branded 'outrageous' by community leaders, who said some Muslims would consider the spray to be ‘Haram’, or sinful.
One Muslim mum said she was very angry after her daughter had been given the vaccination without realising it contained the gelatine.
She said: “When I found out later I was absolutely devastated. Pig is a dirty animal and forbidden by Islam full stop. We're not even allowed to have it in the house, it's not halal.
“It's like eating dog or eating meat if you're a vegetarian."
Salim Mulla, executive member of the Lancashire Council of Mosques and former mayor of Blackburn with Darwen, said: "My personal view is that Muslims should not accept this spray, and a lot of people will be angry that the injected vaccine is not an option for all children.
"I think it's outrageous and everyone should be given a choice.
"We have a large Muslim community in East Lancashire and this is something we need to have deep discussions about. I will be writing to Blackburn MP Jack Straw and NHS England about this.”
‘At risk’ children can still access the injected vaccine from their GP, but healthy children will only be offered the new nasal spray Fluenz Tetra.
Concerns had also been raised that parents may not be aware that the spray contains porcine gelatine, although officials said leaflets have been sent out and parents must sign a consent form before their child receives the vaccine.
The immunisation programme started last month, just days after the death of 12-year-old schoolgirl Olivia Diamond.
The Accrington Academy, who had no health problems, died of acute myocarditis less than a week after falling ill with the flu.
The spray, manufactured by British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm Astra Zeneca, has been certified as acceptable by some representatives from Jewish and Muslim communities, but others consider it to be 'haram'.
Public Health England, which is leading the pilot programme, said in a statement: “There are some groups within the British Muslim community that may consider the porcine product to be forbidden.
"Gelatine is used to stabilise live viral vaccines and is contained in many pharmaceutical products, not just Fluenz.
"PHE has previously published advice on our website from representatives of the Jewish and other communities regarding porcine or other animal-derived ingredients in medicinal products such as vaccines.
“We cannot comment on individual cases however the view of PHE and the Department of Health is that, for the universal vaccination of healthy individuals, there is no suitable alternative to Fluenz.
“This vaccine offers the best protection for children and it reduces the risk to others who may be more vulnerable to the complications of flu. The injected vaccine is not thought to reduce spread as effectively and so is not being offered to healthy children as part of this programme.”
Children aged two, three and four-years-old are already offered the nasal spray as part of the seasonal flu campaign.
Abdul Hamid Qureshi, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said: "This is a controversial issue and the scholars differ in their opinions about this vaccine.
“Pork is absolutely haram, or illegal, and not allowed at all, but sometimes they can clinically transform it into different products and then some say it's fine.
"In the end it comes down to individual choice.
"The important thing is that people need to be informed really clearly, otherwise it will cause a lot of resentment.
"Those children who are at risk can still have the injected vaccine.""
The prohibition of pork in Islam, which considers pigs to be dirty animals, is derived from the following verse of the Qur’an: “Forbidden to you are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah.”
The books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament also say pigs are unclean and should not be eaten.
Azhar Ali, Pendle councillor and cabinet member for health at Lancashire County Council, said he supported the vaccination programme.
"I think it's really important for children to be vaccinated for flu, but parents can choose not to have the vaccination if they wish.
"I'm a Muslim and I think it would be outrageous if parents didn't want their kids to take this up. There are lots of alcohol-based ointments that are commonly used without any controversy."