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It’s probably no surprise to you, if you’re subscribed to my youtube channel or patreon, that the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) is safe, effective, crucial for preventing the spread of disease, and the subject of so much debate and pseudoscience that insane people like Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield are genuinely putting the future of humanity at risk.
Unfortunately, vaccine ignorance isn’t limited to the rich, white, English-speaking world. This week, Indonesia’s ruling Islamic organization ordered a fatwa declaring the MMR to be “haram,” or forbidden. Just to be clear, I say “ruling” but I don’t mean that politically — the Indonesian Ulama Council (or MUI) rules over all the other Muslim organizations in Indonesia. It isn’t officially a part of the government, but they do receive funding from the government and the organization’s leader is the Indonesian president’s new running mate.
The small bit of good news is that the MUI included a small footnote in their fatwa: people are still allowed to use the MMR because there is no safe alternative. But one worries how long it will be before that bit gets lost, and we’re left with just the bold print: the MMR is forbidden for good Muslims.
The organization’s reasoning is one that has concerned many religious people for a long time now — the fact that the MMR includes human cells and pork products. And that’s totally true! Scientists use a line of human cells as a culture to grow the viruses used in the vaccine, and then the vaccine is preserved in gelatin, which is, like Jello, produced from bits of pig. As someone who doesn’t want to contribute to the death of pigs, which are extremely intelligent, wonderful beings whose farming leads to ridiculous levels of environmental destruction, I think it’s extraordinarily unfortunate that vaccines rely upon pig products, but it’s what we’ve got right now. And up until now, major religious leaders like the Pope and various imams and rabbis have told their adherents it’s okay to use vaccines because they’re really fucking important to the continued existence of the human race, which trumps worries over consuming non-kosher products or human cells that originated in aborted fetuses.
But now this fatwa appears to be pushing things backwards, with the emphasis on banning vaccines. And according to CNN Indonesia, several towns had already stopped giving out the vaccine prior to MUI’s fatwa.
Meanwhile, Europe is seeing an explosion in measles cases this year, with more than 41,000 people infected and at least 37 deaths so far. It’s mostly happening in Eastern Europe, with the most infections appearing in Ukraine and the most deaths in Serbia. What’s the problem? Well, immunization rates are under what we need for herd immunity, which is the concept that if the vast majority of people are vaccinated, there can’t be an outbreak and measles can’t spread to people who are unvaccinated (either due to ignorance or because people are immunocompromised and unable to get the vaccine). Herd immunity starts at 95% vaccination rate, but Europe as a whole is at 90% and pockets are as low as 70%.
So to add to that huge problem, now we have a prominent Islamic organization issuing a fatwa that says vaccines are off-limits (sort of). It’s not a great situation. It’s hardly the only problem Indonesia is facing right now — they just put a woman in prison for 18 months for complaining that her local mosque is too noisy. What’s the connecting factor? Conservative, anti-free speech, anti-science Islamic influence. Much like Christianity here in America, Islam has infected the Indonesian government. Here’s hoping rational Indonesians can stand up against that encroaching theocracy before it’s too late.